Google Chrome vs. Mozilla Firefox

Posted by jimi on January 15th, 2009 filed in General, Tech Support Snippit

A little while ago I switched my web browser preference to Google Chrome.  Up until that point I had been using Mozilla Firefox.  Both have their advantages and disadvantages.  Why did I make the switch, and why do I still use Firefox every now and then?

Well like any human, I’m a fan of aesthetics, and Chrome just looks nicer.  It has a very streamlined interface, and takes up far less room at the top of the screen.  This means more space for the web page you’re looking at.  

Tabbed browsing has been around for years, and while both Chrome and Firefox have tabbed browsing, Chrome has a little something extra in this department.  In Firefox, if you click and drag on a tab, it allows you to change it’s place in the tab order, which can be useful.  If you drag the tab outside of the window and drop it onto the desktop, it will create a shortcut icon for that particular page.  Now, Chrome will allow clicking and dragging of tabs to re-order them, but if you drag the tab outside the browser, it creates an entire new window for the tab.  This isn’t going to be useful for everyone, but I use two monitors on my main computer.  This allows me to drag a tab onto the other monitor and view two pages at once.  Tabs can also be dragged from window to window, so you can dock the tab you just dragged out back into the original window as well.

Firefox put a search bar into it’s browser a while ago, which allowed you to perform a google/yahoo/MSNLive/etc search without having to visit their search page first.  Now this is an awesome feature, one I used a lot, but the text entry box was seperate from the main address bar.  Chrome asked the question “Why should these bars be seperate?”.  The answer is they shouldn’t, and so Chrome combines the search box with the address bar.  Type anything that isn’t a website into this bar and Chrome will perform a search for it.  You can change which search engine you prefer to use as well.

Now these seem like fairly minor things, but under the hood there are some pretty major differences that make Chrome superior (in my eyes) to Firefox.  WARNING: This post is about to get a whole lot nerdier.

With the current trend of CPU’s going multi-core, we need software that will make use of these newer CPU’s.  This requires programs to be written in a different way.  The two main ways of doing this is either making a program “Multi-threaded” or “Multi-process“.  Every program you use starts as a process.  A program generally has one process, which can then branch into multiple threads.  Programs that use multiple threads can be quite difficult to program, but will make use of your multi core CPU far better than a program that doesn’t split into multiple threads.

Firefox is a multithreaded application, and creates a new thread for each new tab.  This is great for new multi-core CPU’s, however there are problems with this approach.  If an application is multithreaded, and one thread encounters a problem and crashes it takes down the entire process.  That means that all tabs and Firefox will crash.  

Chrome is a bit different, in that it doesn’t create a new thread for each tab, but actually creates a new process for each tab.  Now this is a lot more difficult to program than a multithreaded application.  I won’t go into why it’s harder to code, but it does have one major advantage.  If the same crash stated before were to happen in Chrome, only that tab would crash, and the rest of the tabs are fine.  This means only re-loading one tab, and minimal interruption to work.  This kind of thing is important to someone that spends as much time online as I do, but maybe not for the average user.  

So Jimi, why do you keep Firefox installed if Chrome is so awesome?  I’m glad you asked.  See, Chrome isn’t perfect.  It’s still very early on in it’s lifecycle, and still has a few kinks to iron out.  Every now and then I’ll come across a website that doesn’t quite work properly, or doesn’t work at all.  Thats when Firefox steps up to the plate and works its magic.

Firefox also has a much wider range of plugins.  There’s some really cool ones, like split the browser in two, the Alexa plugin to see web traffic of any site you’re visiting, etc.  The reason behind Firefox having so many more is mainly due to the fact it’s been around for so mush longer than Chrome, and it’s actually a lot easier to code plugins for Firefox because it’s multithreaded and not multiprocess.

I did find however that the more plugins I installed in Firefox, the less of a web page I actually saw.  Not all of the plugins are worth the space they take up, and clutter the screen very quickly.  I haven’t needed any extra plugins on Chrome that I need on a daily basis, so this hasn’t been a huge problem either.

So to sum up, both browsers are good.  My preference lies with Chrome because :

  • It looks nicer (more important when you spend many hours using it)
  • The design is more streamlined
  • Ability to drag tabs into new windows
  • Multi purpose text bar
  • More screen space for web pages
Thanks for reading.

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