For more than a year I have been actively avoiding the web browser that all the cool kids use these days. I’m obviously talking of Google Chrome.
For all its excellent performance and ease of use, I kept being bothered by its insistence on breaking the mold and looking like a completely different thing running on my Linux system, instead of behaving like an application blending with its environment. I think it was this big annoyance that kept me from adopting it as my regular web browser for all this time. But compared to Mozilla Firefox, I think there’s just no matter of dispute anymore. Chromium/Google Chrome keeps getting better, and Firefox is stuck in the noughties, much like an evolutionary dead end in the history of
fail web browsers.
The fact is, there are perfectly plausible explanations for the blending issue. It was only last night that I decided to do some research, and the first thing I found while looking around in the Chromium issue tracker was #10949, “Use GTK widget renderering in web content”. Various valid points are raised by the developers amidst some background noise — courtesy of random users. And truth to be told, it works. If one takes any XUL (e.g. Firefox, Thunderbird) application and tests it against Gtk+ theme engines or color schemes other than the Ubuntu defaults*, various design shortcomings become evident, including things such as the developers’ inability to choose a toolbar icon set for Linux/X11 that doesn’t become uncomfortably unreadable against bright backgrounds.
There are many other subtle quirks in Firefox as of late that make it glaringly obvious that it is unable to keep up with my own evolving requirements. Just to provide a few examples:
- The whole browser often freezes for milliseconds (up to one second) when performing certain operations in the background such as opening a new tab. (Chrome appears to use and abuse IPC on Linux to avoid this at all costs.)
- Scrolling motion often feels jerky, with occasional momentary rendering artifacts such as large blank chunks that are just displeasing or even painful to the eye. (In this regard, Chrome > Opera > Firefox here.)
- Awesome Bar suggestions may take long to appear in some cases due to my extensive browser history, which is pretty much the only way those suggestions can be useful in the first place (I currently have no idea whether Chrome is different in this respect). The main problem with this is that there is no obvious indication as to how much time I should wait for suggestions to come up before giving up.
- I can’t keep my tabs open and start a Private Browsing session on a new window. (Chrome allows “incognito” windows separate from normal browsing sessions.)
- Firefox Sync is somewhat cumbersome by design, and yet it refuses to work most of the time for unknown reasons.
As far as I am concerned, there’s a certain threshold beyond which an application starts to become a nuisance rather than the facility any modern application should strive to be. Those days when everything was a chore are long gone; I want a web browser that’s fast, efficient, effective, and does not get in my way. Google Chrome/Chromium is rather daring—perhaps a little too much—in these terms, as you can see by yourself under “Content not chrome” in their User Experience page, but their approach appears to be effective if the browser marketshare trends are anything to go by.
In conclusion, I have decided to give Chromium a more extensive test run for the rest of this week. Yes, Chromium (version 20 from sid), because I tend to feel the Debian packagers know their OS better, and the built-in Flash in the current stable Google Chrome appears to have problems with my machine and/or configuration.
Thankfully, importing my Firefox bookmarks, saved forms and other cruft took just a few clicks**. I will probably have to adapt to the different user interface design (already had to move some bookmarks around for easy access), but it might as well be a minor one-time hassle if it all works out well.
* (Seriously, “every Linux operating system is Ubuntu” would become a trope if Linux ever achieved
** (I decided against importing my web history, which goes back as far as June 8th 2011.)