Bells and Whistles

Recently, Lifehacker published another set of benchmarks for browser performance, and it looks like Chrome has barely managed to edge out Safari and Opera in their total scores. Although adding up performance on different metrics is exactly comparing apples and oranges, the results were good enough to convince me to try out Chrome. And it’s good enough.

I don’t consider myself much of a trail-blazer when it comes to new technology. I refused a new phone this past winter because it looked complicated, I don’t really care much for keeping up on the latest revisions and features for Google News or iOS, and I don’t really care that much about gadgets. When I say this, I’m only partially trying to portray myself as a hip luddite who’s better than the latest trends in technology. I usually try to stay pretty up-to-date on the tools I use and am not reluctant to find and use things that seem helpful.

Even though browser wars have been a big deal since Firefox shook things up a few years ago, I usually don’t notice much of a difference between the browsers. When I mentioned to a friend the other day that I had switched over to Chrome after being a stable Safari for so long, he pointed out that I had had a similar switch when Safari 4 came out. Thinking back, I used Firefox for a year and a half, Safari for a year and a half, and am now on to Chrome. And all because it’s faster.

Freshmen year, I had to look up something on a friend’s computer, and when I asked him why he used Safari, he simply said, “Because it’s faster than Firefox.” I scoffed, pointing out the value of extensions, search options, and such, though I eventually realized that extensions weren’t changing my experience that much. A browser should load webpages, and assuming it does that fine, about the only other important thing is that it’s fast.

Or at least it’s important that it should seem fast.¬†And Chrome seems fast. I’ll let the benchmarks call the shots on actual load times, but I realized awhile ago that load times don’t really matter unless my behavior adjusts as well. A few keyboard shortcuts are different, but otherwise, the experience is largely the same as it was with Safari, with 2 notable exceptions.

First, I don’t think it plays nicely with PDFs. I tried using the PDF plugin, but that didn’t really quite cut it. Being able to load PDFs in the browser or embedded in a frame is convenient, especially if I just need to take a peek. That’s pretty annoying.

Second, the omnibar is kind of cool. I’m still not quite used to the auto-complete preference-y sort of stuff having gotten so used to the auto-complete style of Safari, but I’m sure I’ll come around. The one thing that I will highlight as being amazing, though, is adding a search engine for “I’m Feeling Lucky”. Often, my searches really are just converting one very specific query into the only matching URL that I can’t remember or am too lazy to type out the entire URL. “I’m Feeling Lucky” is only slightly faster than pulling up the search page and clicking the first link, and there’s a non-trivial chance I’ll be led astray. I just started trying it, and I’m already a huge fan because I think I’m going to get smarter with using it as well.

Which is my latest realization: it’s less important that the browser seems fast as it is that I can access pages and data fast. Typically, that means the browser running fast, but it can also be cool shortcuts and smart design to make me a more efficient user. So in summary, my Firefox days were about cool browser features. My initial Safari days were about having a fast browser. My late Safari days were about having a browser that seemed fast. And now my Chrome days are about seeming to browse faster.

Features and speed seem to grapple in some sort of strange trade-off, though I feel somewhat silly about how much my thoughts on them have changed. Extensions might just be wingdings to make fireworks explode whenever you click on a link with more than 20 characters in it, but they can also be tools to automate common actions. Speed might just be fast load times, but it’s also whether I have multiple tabs open because I’m expecting it to take a long time for ESPN to load.

So Chrome is winning the war in my head right now as the browser for regular use. Give me another year and a half, and I’ll be certain then that Opera is the way to go.

One thought on “Bells and Whistles”

  1. @warstrekkid At the moment, I’m using multiple browsers on Windows XP. I use Flock not only for blogging, but responding to blogs. Firefox is the main workhorse. I used Chrome for all of the Google applications (e.g. Google Reader, Google Groups, Google Wave) because they theoretically should be better tested. I keep up to date with Opera, as the browser that I’ll fire up when I want to see a site without being logged in (since Firefox and Flock remember the userids and passwords).

    On my Blackberry, I use the native browser, but also Opera Mini, which has more features.

    On my wifi-enabled iPod, I use Safari, and Opera.

    Cross-platform, Opera usually wins. However, on my laptop, the other browsers have merit. I estimate that I spend 40% of my time in Firefox, 30% in Flock, 25% in Chrome, and 5% in Opera. I find that the Launchy plugins to Thunderbird, Firefox and Flock reduce the need for copy-and-paste of URLs.

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