Scalar Motion

and a few stops along the way

User Review: Firefox 3.0 vs Chrome vs IE 8

Posted by ScalarMotion on September 5, 2008

This is an old review. All browsers have gotten major updates since this article was written.

I am an unloyal Firefox (FF) user. With so much buzz around Google Chrome and some around Internet Explorer 8, I just couldn’t resist them. Now, after spending a couple of days playing with the new browsers, getting surprised (not always pleasantly) and learning what I could do with them and what I couldn’t, I am going to summarize my observations here.

This is a user review and considers the things a typical user will likely encounter in the course of normal usage.

Browser Versions: All the up to date versions were used:

  • Firefox – 3.0.1.
  • Chrome Beta – 0.2.149.27 (No, it’s not an IP address.)
  • Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2 – 8.0.6001.18241 (and, top that!)

Installation

Firefox is by far the fastest to download and install. Both Chrome and IE8 took a long time to download the installer. But Chrome’s installation went smoothly while IE8 had to “restart the computer” to finish the installation.

Startup Delay

I measured how long the browsers take to come up when I first launch them after a computer restart. Both IE8 and Chrome are very quick to start up. Firefox takes the longest time and embarrassingly so. On my Dell XPS M1710, with core 2 duo 2.16 GHz processor and 3 GB RAM, both Chrome and IE8 started up within 1.5 seconds. FF took about 7 seconds. Some of this delay might have been due to me having a number of add-ons installed in my FF. Reopening new browser windows, thereafter, was very quick for all of them.

Importing Settings

When I installed Chrome and IE8, I also chose to import my FF settings (bookmarks, passwords etc) to the new browsers. Of course.

It was a breeze in Chrome. All my bookmarks appeared exactly as they were in FF. Same order. Everything. Loved it.

But with IE8, it was a different story. A pain in the ass fingers. The bookmarks from my Firefox toolbar did not make it to the IE8 toolbar automatically. They were just copied in a folder under Favorites menu. I had to manually drag them one-by-one to the toolbar. One-by-one. The first, then the second, then the third, then – you get the idea. That’s not all. While moving them to the toolbar folder, I could not place them in the order I wanted. The item being moved to the toolbar folder always ended up going to the first position. Come last, stand first. Once an item was copied though, I could reorder it all I wanted. Then I clicked on a toolbar folder expecting to see the familiar list of my bookmarks. It didn’t seem familiar at all. Soon I saw that all my bookmarks under the folder were alphabetically arranged. Would have been useful if I was trying to form a dictionary! WTF! My bookmarks were not a random pile of junk that needed alphabetical reordering. I had an order there. They told a story. Like a novel. Now it’s like a dictionary. Lastly – IE8 also did not import the little icons that used to appear before my individual bookmarks. All my bookmarks were now marked by the IE icon – the ubiquitous encircled ‘e’. A dictionary full of IE icons! The icons will get updated over time as I visit the individual webpages. Pardon my having gone a bit over the top here, but IE8 should have treated my bookmarks with some more respect. I know that this is a “beta 2″ version of IE8 and things might improve in later versions. But Chrome just worked. And Chrome isn’t even “beta 2″, is it? Oh well.

Appearance

“Beauty is only skin deep.” How much deeper can it be on a 2-D computer screen anyways?

So I better keep to more objective stuff. But if you want a casual look, click on the image below for a 1:1 view of browser windows:

Title bar

Title bar (or “windows bar”) is the the thick blue bar at the very top of most windows, the bar that contains the title of the window and the minimize/maximize/close buttons. Apart from those buttons it usually is a huge waste of pixels on the computer screen. While both FF and IE stick to its usual placement, Chrome sets a new standard in how to use the windows title bar for browsers. It removes the title. Moves the tab listings over there. Leaves enough vacant space at the top to click it and drag the window around. Keeps its own minimize/maximize/close buttons. It is obvious that maximizing the useful space on the computer screen was high on Google’s agenda. This is further exemplified in how, when you maximize the window, it gets rid of the small vacant space at the top because you can’t drag the window anyways. Small but sensible stuff.

Status bar

Chrome has also done away with the traditional “status bar” – the gray bar appearing at the very bottom of a typical browser. In Chrome, it only appears when it has a useful information to provide, like when a page is loading or when you are pointing to a link. When there’s nothing interesting to display, the bar simply disappears. Nice. Here’s how it looks when it appears.

Both IE8 and FF allow you to hide the status bar altogether by modifying the settings in the ‘view’ menu, but that’s not dynamic like Chrome’s.

IE8 also provides a zoom control button on the status bar, a functionality that I like.

Overall, I like the appearance of Chrome the best. Two things that set it apart for me are the freshness and the uncluttered view it offers. Freshness is subjective and it may be subject to change with time. The uncluttered view comes from good uses of the title bar, a dynamic status bar, as well as the lack of some menu buttons. The lack of menu buttons may bother some users who are fond of customizing their browsers.

Address Bar

Both Firefox and IE8 have two boxes in the address bar – an address box and a search box. They both have auto-complete feature for the address box. As you start typing a URL, a list of possible suggestions drops down. Firefox has a more advanced implementation of this, as you can just need to type the keywords from a webpage title for it to appear in the suggestions list.

The search box has a drop-down list of search engines. Choose a search engine, type your search phrase, hit ‘enter’ and you get your search results. Both FF and IE8 allow you to add search engines to the drop-down list.

Chrome, on the other hand, presents a single unified box that can be used for typing URLs as well as search phrases. As you type a phrase, the browser shows suggestions for URLs as well as options to perform a search with the default search engine (which, of course, can be set by the user).

There is also a way to specify a search engine while typing the search phrase in Chrome. This is how it works. Each search engine is identified by a small nickname. To use a particular search engine, just type its nickname and hit tab button on the keyboard and voila! The address box transforms into a search box for that search engine. Type “dict”, hit tab and you are ready to use Answers.com Dictionary Quicksearch.  Type “wp”, hit tab and it becomes a Wikipedia search box. Of course, “dict” and “wp” are the nicknames for Answers.com and Wikipedia respectively. This is simple and powerful. Beautiful. I can’t think of a better way of doing this. You can add new search engines like Amazon or eBay to the browser. You can assign them nicknames you want. Adding a search engine is a bit cumbersome, but Google do have a decent help page to teach you how to do this here. I wish google had included a few more search engines with the browser by default, but you know, I’ll take it as it is. It beats everything else out there. Chrome blows away both Firefox and IE8 as far as the address bar is concerned.

I have read words like “omnibar” or “awesomebar” for google’s address bar. They are not exaggerations.

Tab Management

All browsers allow you to drag and reorder the tabs inside the window. The process is slightly more animated in Chrome – you can see a tab moving and displacing other tabs (in other browsers they would just exchange places). There are some more substantial differences as well:

  • A Chrome tab can be moved from one Chrome window to another. FF also supports this.
  • A Chrome tab can be opened as a new window by dragging it out of the current window.
  • Firefox doesn’t show above behavior. But a FF tab can sure be dragged out of the current window. The result of the action depends on what the user is trying to do.
    • You can drag it in a Chrome window to open it as a Chrome tab. Cool!
    • You can drag it on any bookmark toolbar – IE8, Chrome or FF – to bookmark the webpage. Way cool!
    • You can also drag it to a MS Word document or the likes to insert a link to the webpage.

IE8 beta 2 doesn’t let you mess around with its tabs. They are just plain ol’ tabs, for God’s sake. No magic.

Restoring Tabs

I like a feature in FF and IE8 that allows you to restore all the tabs you had open in your last browsing session. FF does this by asking the users if it should remember the tabs when they try to close a window with multiple tabs. IE8 asks nothing but always remembers. It has an option under ‘Tools’ menu that lets you restore the last browsing session. Chrome also has an option which will make it always start with the tabs from the last session. But in Chrome, it’s either always or never. You can’t decide this on the fly. If you have not chosen to start Chrome with the tabs from the last session, there is no easy way of getting them back. In fact as soon as you hit ‘close’ on the current window, all your tabs are history. Literally.

New Tabs

A new feature in Chrome is that when you open a new tab, it starts with thumbnail previews of your “most visited” webpages, a list of recently added bookmarks, a list of recently closed tabs and a search box for searching history. Here’s how it looks:

It’s nice looking. Sometimes, it is useful too. But people, who like their privacy, may find it uncomfortable to open a new tab in presence of other people. I think it’s gonna be an issue in office like environment. There is no obvious way to turn this off.

Closing Tabs

In all the three browsers you can close a tab by hitting a small ‘x’ button on the tab itself. But there is a problem with IE8. It shows the ‘x’ button only on the current tab. So in IE8 you can only close the tab you are currently looking at. You must “look before crossing closing.”

Bookmarks / Favorites

Chrome and Firefox call them bookmarks. IE calls them favorites. I’ll use the term bookmarks. They pretty much work the same way in all three. I have noted the following differences.

  1. Firefox does not allow you to rearrange bookmarks on the toolbar just by dragging them. You must go to “Organize Bookmarks …” menu to be able to do that. Chrome and IE8 allow you to just drag and reorder them right there on the toolbar.
  2. Firefox allows you to drag a tab directly into a bookmark folder and add it as a bookmark exactly where you want. This is a lot easier than using the bookmark button and then having to tell which bookmark folder to add it in.
  3. It’s quicker to open a bookmark in Firefox. It requires just one mouse click compared to two mouse clicks required in IE8 and Chrome. This is how you do it in Firefox: press down the mouse button on a bookmark folder, the folder expands to show the bookmarks, drag the mouse down to the bookmark you want to open and let go of the mouse button. All possible in one smooth motion. Whereas, in Chrome and IE8 you have to first click on the bookmark folder for it to expand and then you have to click on the bookmark you want to open. Not a big deal if you are not already addicted to the Firefox flow I mentioned above.

Porn Mode

Chrome allows you to browse in what it calls “Incognito window”. It’s supposed to not leave normal browsing history, search history or cookies. IE8 has a similar offering named “InPrivate Browsing”. In “Incognito window”, Google changes the appearance theme a little, so the user is aware of the current mode. IE8 uses a “InPrivate” label on the address bar to convey the same. Firefox doesn’t have any such modes. Not yet. The nothing-to-hide browser.

Add-ons / Extensions

I consider this huge. Long time ago, Firefox introduced the concept of extensions. An extension can add a new functionality to the browser, or can modify an existing functionality.  You want a new theme – there are numerous out there, change daily. You want to change how your tabs behave – sure thing.  Integrate Skype with your browser. StubleUpon, Facebook, Last.fm. You want something? An extension to do that probably exists. If it doesn’t, you have a brand new idea – Bravo!  IE8 also has given support of extensions and already has a fair number of them available.

Currently, there are so many FF extensions out there that if you are not using some of them, you are certainly missing out. My favorites include “Adblock Plus”. You guessed it –  it prevents advertisements from getting displayed on the webpage you are watching. Some people argue this is an unethical thing to do. But I would rather live with the guilt than set a sight on some websites without the Adblock filter. If you like looking at online photographs or online videos, checkout Cooliris, which also works on IE8.  There are other useful extensions that you can choose depending on your browsing habits. There is something for everything.  You have to explore for yourself what the extensions can do for you.

Unfortunately Chrome does not support any extensions yet. Bummer.

All said and done, here is my summary:

IE8 is simply not good enough to win me back from Firefox. Though it may convince a few people to not desert it for another browser.

Because of lack of extensions, Chrome cannot do for me what Firefox can. So even Chrome is not making me switch from FF. But it is only a few useful extensions away from doing so.

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7 Responses to “User Review: Firefox 3.0 vs Chrome vs IE 8”

  1. jomama said

    What I miss in Chrome that FF has:

    Search bookmarks box.

    Placing cursor on web page at beginning of text, then using Shift+arrow keys to highlight
    text to cut and paste.

    The menu that opens below comment boxes to select your name, email, and web page.

    I’m confident that Chrome will be No. 1 soon tho.

    IE is an ‘also ran’. I don’t even have it on my machine anymore.

  2. CLibra said

    Hey,

    Nice article! I agree completely with what you said about IE8 and Chrome not being enough to make me switch from FF.

    You might be interested by an article I wrote about extensions to intergrate all of the cool new features from IE8 and Chrome into FF, so you get the buzz without having to switch, and keep the Firefox goodness.

    Here’s the link http://clibra.wordpress.com/2008/09/07/browser-wars-turning-firefox-into-ie8-and-chrome/

    Keep writing
    CLibra

  3. [...] User Review: Firefox 3.0 vs Chrome vs IE 8 [...]

  4. oliver said

    The “Omnibar” description sounds like what Epiphany did, at least when I last used it a couple years ago. I loved Epiphany, except for the URL bar. Having one textbox mean both “address” and “search” was incredibly confusing. I switched to Firefox, despite its funky non-native interface, just so I could get a separate search box. How does Google’s single box fix the problems that Epiphany had? If you type a word and press return, does it append .com and go there, or search?

    “dict” takes you to “Answers.com”? Never would have guessed that. “A bit cumbersome”, indeed!

    I can see how Google would want to blur the distinction between “go to an address” and “use a search engine to find a webpage”, but at this point, my first reaction is “You can have my search box when you pry it from my cold dead hands”.

  5. ScalarMotion said

    Oliver,

    I see the value of having a separate search box. It is uncomplicated and lets me feel more in control. It sure is worth dying for. :)

    But I also find that today’s omnibars are not all that bad. With omnibars, the down arrow key on the keyboard starts playing an important part. Type your phrase or keywords, and a list of suggestions drops down. Use the arrow key to select the correct suggestion and hit enter. Of course, there are ambiguities and one has to hope that the intended action shows up at the top of the suggestion list. But it has worked very well for me so far.

    If you prefer, the Omnibar lets you specifically indicate that you are typing a search query and not an URL. This removes the ambiguity but, really, takes the fun out of the Omnibar.

    If you want the browser to append .com to your phrase and go to a website, hit Ctrl+Enter instead of just enter. I believe this works in all browsers.

    Recently an Omnibar extension for Firefox has showed up: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/8823. Do check it out. You see, you don’t have to choose between Omnibar and search box. Not yet. You can try them both side by side, and ultimately go with what you like best.

  6. [...] – gives top marks to Firefox, Chrome, Firefox for speed, CSS times, and Memory usage – IE8 trails Scalar Motion – does install, import settings, speed, and usability tests and ranks Firefox, Chrome and IE8 [...]

  7. Vision said

    Please dont forget about opera. The best of them all.
    It allows you to save internet sessions natively. Very helpfull for researches.
    Chrome sims to be inspired on Opera.
    http://www.opera.com/

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