Last year, I spent a chunk of time playing around with different browsers. Microsoft Edge, much to much dismay, got a run for a couple of weeks. I mucked around with the early days of the Firefox Quantum beta. And then, just like everyone else, I went back to Chrome.
But even though I returned to the home of Google, I've still been angling for something different. And over the last few weeks, I found myself using Firefox more and more, until the browser finally became my default option across all platforms.
This story has been updated since it originally appeared in April 2018.
Even before I abandoned my temporary move last year, Firefox had already offered several compelling reasons to switch. From a non-productivity aspect, the gaming performance and WebGL implementation was vastly more efficient than Chrome's. Playing something like the open-source Tomb Raider fan remake was basically impossible in Chrome, because the controls were largely unresponsive and the frame rate was piss poor. Firefox: smooth as silk.
We've talked about some of the Tomb Raider fan remakes before, and some of them are pretty cool. But one of the projects has got a nice ace up its sleeve. support for two players, on a single screen.
Gaming in a browser, even as someone who runs a gaming site for their day job, isn't close to the main reason I switched browsers though. The main things I was looking for were all productivity based: I wanted something that was memory efficient, especially when I've got multiple browser tabs competing for memory space with Photoshop, occasionally Open Broadcaster Software (if recording) and other apps.
I wanted something that was fast. The early Firefox Quantum betas were much better than the Firefox of old - but our work sites still loaded up faster (without adblock, to be clear), which was one of the major reasons I switched back.
That's no longer the case. I've run some eyeball tests this morning, and while Chrome pops up a fraction of a second faster, that's all it is. It's neck and neck for practical purposes, which brings the other major benefits of Firefox into play:
- Firefox actually saves passwords: I can hear people groaning in the background already at the security implications of this - and yes, I do use separate password managers personally and professionally. But sometimes I need to login to an app or browser quickly, and for whatever reason - probably enforced by the developers - Chrome never actually remembers the login details. Firefox doesn't have that problem, and you can access your saved logins which can be a lifesaver in a pinch. Again, not the most secure option, but bloody handy.
- Chrome only spell-checks the lines around the cursor, rather than the entirety of a text box as soon as it's active: I can see the efficiency argument here from Google: if a user hasn't clicked on a text box, why waste resources on grammar and spell checks until it's needed? That said, if you're typing for a living - and many of us do, even if you're not in the world of professional publishing - being able to quickly parse the errors of a document is super handy. It's a lifesaver for myself and Amanda when we're localising stories, or fixing my own fuck-ups, and it's something I wish Chrome would just let users enable by default.
- Firefox's in-built screenshot tool is fantastic: I always have a third-party app for taking screenshots - Faststone Capture is lightweight and very, very good - but those apps don't always work across, say, PC and Mac. And while Firefox's tool only works within the browser, it's pretty smart: it'll auto-target individual boxes if you just want to capture those, or you can make freeform selections by clicking and dragging from empty space. There's an option to capture the whole browser window, or just what's visible. A+, Mozilla.
- Automatically blocking HTML5 video: Ever gone to a news site and immediately regretted it because you had to deal with an autoplaying video that just won't stop? Firefox has blocked that stuff for years, and it works damn well. Absolute lifesaver.
- Tracker blocking off the bat: Firefox has always had a pretty strong stance against website trackers, and the benefits aren't just for privacy concerns either. Earlier this year, Mozilla split their tracking protection tech from the private browser, which results in substantially faster load times. It's one checkbox to turn it on, although note that it can stop some embeds (like Instagram, Twitter) from displaying properly.
- Chrome's mobile preview mode sometimes borks out: This one's purely related to the realities of my job. If you're reading something in a browser, you don't generally care that much about how it looks like on a phone. But since it's my job to make sure things work across mobile and desktop, I'm a regular user of Chrome's Inspector tool or Firefox's alternative, Responsive Design Mode.
It basically brings up a mobile version of the page you're on, which looks like this:
- In my experience, Firefox's responsive mode has been just a little more consistent and accurate. I've had instances where embedded iframes or (for example) Instagram messages wouldn't display correctly, or at all, in Chrome's mode. Firefox had no problems whatsoever, and so if I need to make sure something won't break, Firefox is the go-to.
It's not all gravy, though. Tweetdeck looks utterly horrific on Firefox, with Chrome substantially smarter about how it displays scroll bars between each of the columns. Our backend doesn't always play nice with Firefox, and Firefox's responsive mode doesn't let you click and drag the window, like you were scrolling the page with your finger.
The one big kicker that has kept Chrome alive, at least in my workflow, is the laptop. Edge is still the best for battery life, if you're on the go, but Firefox's battery usage savages the life out of my Surface Laptop. Mileage will vary from one device to another, but Firefox's battery and memory usage is vastly more tolerable on laptops than desktops. It's not as big an issue on mobiles, although if you want to switch from Chrome there Brave is a recommended alternative.
On top of that, it's more intuitive to find images through Chrome Inspector than Firefox (which has them neatly located in the Page Info, rather than the debugger). That's a big time saver, especially as a lot more publishers embed bullshots in weird and wonderful ways.
And those gripes have been around since I tried Firefox the last time. But the rest of the browser experience has picked up to the point where I genuinely prefer Firefox as my daily driver, rather than The Thing I Load Because Chrome Forgot A Bloody Password and I need to login now instead of in a minute.
Will that always remain the case? Maybe not. I'm always curious to see if Edge can finally get it together, although my previous experience was aggravating enough to ward me off for several months.