How I Learned to stop using Firefox and love the Chrome

One word: SPEED.

Seriously. I have been a long proponent and user of Firefox, having been lured into it by its relative elegance and the extension framework many moons back. Also, the web development support has always been far better than its competition, with Firebug and Web Developer to name just two great reasons for it being the developer’s browser of choice.

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The sheer number of Firefox add-ons and extensions (about 13,000 in the last count) is staggering – and list absolute essentials such as Adblock Plus, XMarks and DownThemAll! This combined with the themes (I suggest GrApple Yummy on the Mac) has been making the web browsing experience a far better one for me than Safari.

But the problem with Firefox is … it is SLOW.

With just seven add-ons (Adblock Plus, XMarks, DownThemAll!, 1Password, LastPass, FlashBlock and Firefox PDF Plugin for Mac OS X) it takes about 3-4 seconds to launch the application opening a blank home page on an OS X 10.6.3 MacBook. Another 2-3 seconds before any reasonable page is fully rendered. This becomes excruciatingly slow when I am busily opening tabs from a RSS reader or another application – and frustrating when it has to launch the first time I click on a link in another application.

Also, while a custom theme does look pretty – it sometimes does expose artifacts in the chrome (no pun intended) when rendering new pages – especially in the “awesome bar”.

All in all, while the experience is nice, it certainly is not perfect. Speed of launch and rendering are the main gripes.

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I have been toying with Google Chrome ever since the beta for OS X came out. I was initially put off by the inverted tabs as well as lack of extensions (hey, a 21st century browser with no extensions, come on!) Also, the single URL bar/search bar UI seemed … odd. So while the beta version did stay on the HDD, it did not see much use, and Firefox remained the work horse for daily use.

However, with the recent launch of the stable OS X version, I became interested again. And this time Chrome did have a pretty mature extensions ecosystem, some of which seemed to be reasonable replacements for the Firefox equivalents. Time for a spin!

The first thing which struck me was the speed of launch as well as page renders, and the UI feels much more “fluid”. The Inverted tabs still look odd and out of place, but I understand the need to squeeze the additional 20-30 pixels for actual page use.

Actual page rendering in terms of quality is more or less at par with Firefox, though a few oddball sites (especially the work related sites) sometimes get weird effects. I blame it on the IE centric development though. :-)

The unified bar is also starting to make sense, as it actually helps in not having to remember one extra key short cut for searching. It has good support for Firefox like keyword searches as well (example, ‘wk’ for Wikipedia searches) provided you set them up.

I also found more or less feature equivalent extensions:

Xmarks is available for Chrome
Lastpass is available for Chrome
AdThwart in replacement of AdBlock Plus

I found that FlashBlock does exist for Chrome, but I don’t really need it anymore.

The one big hole in the extensions/add-on replacement is DownThem All! There are quite a few download managers, but none can match the Firefox one in terms of features (I am still looking).

The extension manager is also pretty nice, and arguably better than the Firefox one (at least for FF 3.6.3). However, the actual extensions gallery on Google is not quite as user friendly as the Firefox one. The extensions are not categorized completely, which makes it somewhat of a pain to search and find the right one.

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All in all, the Chrome experience has been a refreshing one so far, and Firefox has not seen much use of late – except where I needed to use DownThem All! (simultaneously downloading all chapters of the free audiobooks from www.librivox.org is one example). If anyone has recommendation for a good replacement, let me know.

So there you have it. My infatuation with Chrome has already lasted more than a week, and I still find it a pleasure to use. Have not really dabbled much with the extensions (and themes – Chrome does have support for these as well) – but am finding that I don’t really need to.


Snow Leopard – First Impressions

I finally bit the bullet and installed Snow Leopard over last weekend. I did a clean install (i.e., reformat and install afresh) – considering the significant under-the-hood changes that this OS revision has.

The basic steps I followed are:

  1. Cleaned up the existing Leopard install to remove applications, preference panes and documents I did not need
  2. Reviewed the preferences under ~/Library/Preferences as well as the application support items under ~/Library/Application Support and removed the items which were out of date or detritus from old installs
  3. Took an image backup using SuperDuper! of the Leopard install
  4. Took a backup of the disk using Time Machine to allow easier data restore during the installation
  5. De-authorized my iTunes to prevent increment of the install counter after reinstall of the OS
  6. Popped in the Snow Leopard DVD and started the install
  7. During installation, I used the Disk Utility to reformat the Mac OS partition
  8. I also did a custom install to prevent the printer drivers (over 2 GB) being installed. In addition, I selected the optional Rosetta and Quicktime 7 components (seriously Apple, these take less than 10 MB – why the optional tag?)
  9. Waited for around 20 minutes to have the base image installed, and then used the migration assistant to restore data from my Time Machine backup

The install was relatively smooth, and restoring the data from my Time Machine backup also went without any issues. However, post-install, some of the glitches started appearing:

  1. The default font for Safari as well as Firefox went crazy – with large bold fonts appearing. It turned out to be a font substitution issue with the Arial font, which for some reason was missing the “Regular” type. Restored the font from the old image backup and every thing was back to normal. It appears a lot of people are facing this issue
  2. Adobe’s Photoshop Elements 6 refused to start, stating expiry of the license. This also is a known issue, and a restore of the /Library/Application Support/FLEXnet Publisher/ folder from the image backup made things normal again
  3. The key chain was not allowing storage of any new passwords, and was also not allowing viewing of the stored passwords. This is a known issue and my solution was to simply change the login keychain password once and reset it back again to the original password
  4. Emacs 23 was not compiling under Snow Leopard. There is already a patch available in CVS. However, there are incompatibilities with the 64 bit GCC – hence you need to pass a CC=“gcc -arch i386” as part of the ./configure invocation. The compilation succeeded with this. Note that a recompile of some of the user installed lisp packages was required (notably Icicles)

Other than the issues listed. rest of the experience seems OK so far. The look and feel is not too different and most of the user visible changes are subtle – except for the new QuickTime Player – which is a dumbed down and dressed up version of the venerable QT Player.

In summary, this is an OS upgrade that does have the potential to break some of the old applications, though most of the issues do seem to have work arounds – it is also going to become a required update pretty soon – given the internals changes that Apple has made. No need to rush out right now (mea culpa!) to upgrade – but do be prepared to do the update in the near future.


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