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Switching from Firefox to Chrome

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The last days I was using SRWare Iron instead of my Firefox web browser. Iron is like Chromium, the open source version of Google Chrome web browser with some advantages to Chromium.

http://karl-voit.at/temp/suderei/2011-02-01_Iron_Logo.png"

This is why and how I am switching.

A little Bit of History

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/07/Mosaiclogo.png/200px-Mosaiclogo.png"

In ancient times of the Internet, there was only one graphical browser: Mosaic. I am proud of having witnessed the rise of the Internet from quite early times. My first email address might be one of the first million email addresses in the world ;-)

In 1994 then came Mozilla Netscape which I used from approximately 1995 on.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/0/02/Netscape.svg/200px-Netscape.svg.png"

These browsers were the only browsers back then and so there was no big question which one to use. Mozilla offered more features and so they ruled the early Web.

Then there came Opera and offered more cool features, clever interface tricks and better speed. I switched to Opera then.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d0/Opera_O.svg/80px-Opera_O.svg.png"

But unfortunately Opera left their small footprint and browser-only concept and integrated a Newsreader and an Email client as well. I did not plan to use them. So it was a good reason to switch to Firefox when they came out in 2003. Firefox cut old Mozilla featuritis and offered a small and extensible web browser. This is it, I thought. Get a small web browser and extend it with the add-ons you need and not more. Anybody is able to "collect" the kind of browser she/he needs.

And I was not disappointed! On any platform I was able to use the same cool Firefox add-ons. With the great delicious add-on I solved the bookmark problem completely. This delicious add-on is the finest piece of software I was using since today!

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/d/d8/Firefox_3.5_logo.png"

So why changing?

Firefox is still a good web browser, do not get me wrong. But Google Chrome with its advantage of late birth added cool features to the world of web browsers. Since I am using my web browsers with a lot of open tabs (and session manager), I was frustrated when one tab could crash all my browser tabs in all windows at once. Chrome uses the methodology of operating systems: each tab is like a single program running on an operating system. It's got resources and if one tab has a problem, it stays a problem of this single tab.

This and other technical issues started me to observe Chrome, the browser of the big data seller: Google.

http://karl-voit.at/temp/suderei/2011-02-01_Chrome_Logo.png"

I am concerned about privacy and security and therefore I refuse to use software which crosses a certain border. You will never find me using Facebook for example ;-)

Chrome dedicated themselves to internet standards and were pretty good in running several tests concerning speed, standards and stuff. I liked it.

But I was using Firefox for a lot of years and I did not want to change to a browser that offers me less features.

In late 2009, Google started the Chrome extension gallery which enabled programmers around the world creating extensions for Chrome.

http://karl-voit.at/temp/suderei/2011-02-01_Iron_Logo.png"

And there was Iron. Iron started early as an open source fork of Chromium, the open source version of Chrome. Iron was like Chrome but it lacks a lot of privacy-related problems of Chrome. In short: it does not send that much data straight to Googles databases and prevents several possible things that enable tracking your browser.

The Change

Last weekend, I got minor problems with Firefox (again) and started to think about a change. After a short research, I found that the Chrome extension database was filled with fine add-ons. I made a list of my most important things I did not want to give up and searched for their pendant in the Chrome extension world:

The Must Haves

Delicious Bookmarks: Chromium Delicious plugin - Version: 1.1.2. But I'm sorry to say that this is just for adding new bookmarks. For searching my bookmarks and so forth I started to use the delicious web site directly. Due to the fact that they did an awful good job there, I do not miss much features and speed. But compared toe the great Firefox add-on it is still a compromise.

Flashblock: almost the same as its Firefox pendant.

NoScripts: NotScripts:not as good but good enough

"Tab Mix Plus" and "Tree Style Tab": Well, here is still work to do. I just found TabJump and "Tab Menu" but I am not content by now. Still problems with bad overview with lots of open tabs. The Firefox guys dream better dreams. Or the Mozilla guys are just more open with showing the things in the development pipeline.

Not an add-on but still very important for my workflow: Bookmark shortcuts as described here. Chrome does handle this issue somewhat different. But it offers me almost the same good user experience. When you right-click in the location bar, you get "Edit search engines ..." which lets you define your own search engine shortcuts as described here. With this feature you can also add page URLs (without any search function). So if you define "heise" with "http://heise.de/newsticker" and you type "heise " (note the trailing space) followed by return, you'll end up on the page you meant. Quite nice I think and I am using it a lot. It gives me the biggest subjective speedup of all features mentioned here!

The still-nice-to-haves

Well, I did like mozex which allows me to use my vim editor to edit anything which is a editable text field in the browser. Very handy to write blog posts like this or wiki pages (syntax highlighting, spell checking, macros, ..., ..., ..., ...). Unfortunately I got problems with mozex on Firefox for Mac OS X and was only able to use it on my GNU/Linux notebook I am using for work. The only thing I found here was (this hack and) TextAid which needs a local perl web-server to work. Unfortunately I was not able to get the web server up and running on Mac OS X either (does not run on perl without thread-support as in OS X). I still have to try it with Linux though.

BugMeNot is quite handy for using these dumb web forums just for one question/answer. Well there is a Chrome version.

Facebook Blocker is very important if you do not want to expose everything to one single commercial company. And there is a Chrome version too on that page.

With Firebug, you're able to debug web pages quite good. Since I am using such a debugger quite seldom, I did not try its Chrome version yet.

Greasemonkey is a platform itself and I was using several scripts quite happily. Mainly for heise Forums. It seems to be that Chrome uses those scripts natively but I did not test them yet.

https everywhere offers a cool feature for privacy concerned people like me: if there is a https secured version of the same web page, it uses the https version instead. Unfortunately, there is no direct port to Chrome yet. They link to KB SSL Enforcer but it seems to have small security issues. So far I am OK with this.

Readability is quite handy for reading web pages with lots of annoying and distracting things on it. And there is Readability Redux to bridge that gap in Chrome too. But it did not work for me yet :-(

There is also a Stylish add-on which is a cool method to modify bad CSS on webpages.

Bonus

There are some things that I wanted to mention too:

Google Tasks which I am using for syncing URLs I want to visit from my Android phone to my web browser. For long term things I still create delicious bookmarks with special tags for reminders. But for things I just want to print or take a quick view I move them to Google Tasks on my phone and re-find it in Iron later on.

If you do not trust on the ability to restore the whole Chrome tab session, you can install Session Manager which lets you store and restore your sessions (hopefully).

Still missing

Well I do think that Iron is a viable alternative for me for the next years to come. But what I am missing badly is a print preview like Firefox is offering me. So far I am using Firefox for printing or I create a PDF to check the output first.

Summary

Chrome has some privacy issues but has quite good technology built into. With Iron, you get the cool technical implementation without those security issues. The add-ons seem to have developed quite well. You will find a lot of add-ons for your purpose too. I plan to stay with Iron for now and lets see, what comes ahead ;-)

Note: this blog entry was originally authored using Serendipity and converted to Org-mode format for publicvoit via a dumb script. This may result in bad format or even lost content. Please write a comment if you want to get in touch with me so that I can try to fix things.


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