On Monday, we asked Lifehacker readers to share their current browser of choice, and the results were surprising. While we'd expected to see a jump in Chrome usage since our last poll (in which Firefox was favored by 57 percent of respondents to Chrome's 21 percent), we didn't expect Chrome to have surpassed Firefox usage by almost 10 percent. Specifically, out of 40,000 responses, 42 percent chose Chrome as their browser of choice; 33 percent chose Firefox.
We've championed Firefox at Lifehacker HQ since we opened our doors back in 2005, and we may never be able to adequately express the love we feel toward Firefox for rescuing us from the clutches of Internet Explorer. But if our poll is any indication, there may be a new sheriff in town. Here's how and why Chrome is overtaking Firefox among power users.
Solving Unnoticed ProblemsChrome has fixed problems and made improvements to the browser experience many of us didn't recognize until Chrome fixed them. You can install and start using Chrome extensions without restarting your browser; Chrome isolates tabs into separate processes so if one tab crashes, your browser stays up; or one of the smallest of my favorites: When I close a tab, the remaining tabs don't resize until my mouse leaves the tab bar, meaning I don't have to worry about hitting moving targets. (Try it; it's pretty smart.)
Chrome's bringing a lot of creative new solutions to browsers from a user interface perspective (consolidating the search box and address bar seems so obvious), and they're good enough that Firefox somehow feels like it's playing catch-up on a lot of fronts, and switching between the two, Firefox can start to feel downright clunky. That's not to say Firefox isn't still innovating—for example, a clever new tabbed-browsing interface, called Firefox Panorama, is on its way in the upcoming Firefox 4 release. But Firefox's innovation can feel stale (and slow—see next point) when compared to Chrome.
Frequent, Incremental UpdatesAs of July, Chrome has accelerated their release cycle so that a shiny new version of Chrome's stable release is available every six weeks. The benefit to the user? Instead of waiting for a massive release to consolidate a laundry list of updates, new features end up in your browser as soon as they're ready, a few at a time. From a user-experience perspective, this is great. Your browser gets incrementally better, and rather than learning to use a laundry list of new features each time there's a major release, you can familiarize yourself with one or two new features at a time.
The upshot: You don't have to run the bleeding edge beta or developer releases to get new features shortly after they're developed.
User Experience Is EverythingEvery few months, we pit the latest and greatest versions of the most popular web browsers against each other in a series of performance tests, and almost every time, Chrome comes out on top. Firefox has made leaps and bounds in speed over the past few years, and despite coming out on top in memory use in the last round of tests, Firefox has one very big problem: Firefox users think Firefox is growing progressively slower and more bloated, and at the end of the day, user perception is always more important than all the speed tests in the world.
I can attest to this: When I use Chrome, it feels faster, and that's all that matters. I'd attribute that feeling to more than just interface design (though I wouldn't be surprised if Chrome's sleeker design does color my perception, too). At the end of the day, I want the browser that's going to deliver web sites and information quickly and pain-free. The extensions and other niceties are just jelly; the browser needs to be fast and serviceable before the other stuff really matters. For users who want speed, functionality, and extensibility, Chrome is turning a lot of eyes from Firefox.
Browser SyncPower users love things that sync. Synchronization means you can work from any computer and expect the same basic environment. Chrome started integrating sync into the browser about a year ago (not long after its first birthday), and as of June of this year, it had conquered the final frontier of browser syncing—extension syncing.
Yes, Mozilla has their own browser-syncing tool that they plan on integrating in future releases of Firefox, but it still doesn't do extension syncing, and word of its integration came some seven months after Chrome had started built-in sync.
(It's worth noting that a new Firefox extension, called Siphon, can sync extensions across Firefox installs. Also, other third-party tools offer better syncing functionality than either Chrome or Firefox—see Xmarks for bookmark sync and LastPass for password sync—but Chrome's still leading on these in-browser features while remaining lightweight.)
Integration with Google ServicesIf you're a big Google fan, Chrome has a lot to offer. First, it can sync all your browser data (see more below), and tie it all together with your Google account. If you're a Gmail user, Chrome got first access to drag-and-drop attachment uploads, drag and drop picture insertion, and drag and drop attachment downloads. If you're an Android user, the new Chrome to Phone app-plus-extension lets you instantly beam stuff from your browser to your Android device. Android2Cloud (not an official Google tool) pushes stuff from your phone back to your computer.
When Chrome OS comes out with a stable release, you'll be able to sync your full computing experience by just logging in with your Google account. It's not there yet, but it's all part of where Chrome is going.
Where Firefox Still WinsChrome hasn't outdone Firefox at every turn, and it certainly doesn't outdo Firefox on every front. Take, for example, Firefox's best and most robust extensions.
- As a web developer, I haven't found anything on Chrome that can compare with Firebug (though Firebug Lite for Chrome is a start, and Chrome's Developer Tools are way better than what's built into Firefox). Update: Giving Chrome's Developer Tools another look, they're actually much more impressive than I'd remembered.
- I don't block ads on the web, but from what I've heard from Chrome users, no ad-blocking Chrome extension stacks up to Adblock Plus for Firefox.
- If you download a lot of content from the web, you won't find a better tool for streamlining your downloads than DownThemAll. It's only available for Firefox, it's not coming to Chrome any time soon, and I miss it the minute I start downloading a large file in Chrome.