Saturday, September 17, 2011

Why I switched to Google Chrome

Chrome has been on the rise in recent years. When it first came out I felt like it was an interesting alternative, yet another Webkit based browser. Webkit being quite a fad at the time. It had no extensions, so nothing was going to tear me away from Firefox. What a long way it has come. All my websites now support Chrome when some of them used to not. *cough* Bank of America....

Now Chrome has reached a level of maturity and acceptance that I have no trouble anymore with any website that is important to me. Regardless I was happily running only Firefox.

Desktop notifications

Then came a little extension known as MightyText and I really wanted to be able to receive and reply to SMS's while I'm at my desk without using my phone. So I ended up having chrome running in the systray just for MightyText. The fact that I could do everything through desktop notifications alone was awesome!

My Mac friends will of course tell me that Growl has been around for years, and I'm really late to the party. I'm ok with notifications, as long as you don't use it in the context of IM's. That's just WAY too much noise.

Memory Usage

So I took it upon myself to NOT use 2 browsers simultaneously. With Firefox taking 700MB, Thunderbird taking 300MB and Chrome taking about 70MB I found it absolutely ridiculous that I was using that much memory just to take care of daily computing. Once you add Visual Studio, Max, Photoshop and asset compiles and all sorts of other things programmers do, I was always dangerously close to my 8GB ceiling. Sure I could always buy 2 x 8GB SODIMMs but they are ridiculously expensive!

Now with only Chrome running and pretty much everything I could ever want in extensions, I pretty much hover around 500 - 700MB. Most of the savings is of course because I can now dump Thunderbird and I don't have the overhead of 2 browsers. Browser vs browser however, the memory usage would have been close to identical. 

You're probably thinking at this point, Thunderbird?! What a luddite! Use Gmail already! However, I've never found the user experience of Gmail very good at all. I couldn't right click on a file in Windows Explorer and Send To recipient. As a heavy keyboard shortcut user, hitting CTRL+ENTER was ingrained in my mind to send. This time, I was determined to try and live with it.

So how did I manage to dump Thunderbird after 10 years of use? Read on!

Web applications as a first class citizen

I've tried multiple times before in FF to use prism to get first class citizen status for Gmail, but it never really seemed to work right. I tried using all sorts of addons in FF to streamline my Gmail and have desktop notifiers and things like that, and was never very pleased.

Now I have Gmail running as an application shortcut, and it works really well. At least, WAY better than I remember. Chrome seems to be smart enough to know NOT to open multiple instances of my Gmail inbox and simply switches to the Gmail application window when the need arises. Otherwise mailto links are handled by the Gmail popout.

I enable desktop notifications, and when a new mail comes in, I get a little popup that I can click on to view the email and can reply from yet another Gmail popout. Just like yet another mail window in Thunderbird. My only gripe is that you can't delete a mail from the popout! How dumb is that! But you can fix that with an extension. I'll cover that later.

Granted a lot of things are simply due to Gmail having so many improvements over the years. Like being able to drop attachments, background send and many other minor improvements since it first launched and I dismissed it as, Ugh, terrible user experience. Rich client FTW.

Now CTRL+ENTER has been replaced with TAB then ENTER.


So what extensions am I running that made me such a quick convert? Well here is my list.
  • Adblock Plus for Google Chrome
    • Doesn't work as good as FF's but it works for the most part. Popups and some ads sometimes slip by. Oh well, people need to make money somehow right?
  • Minimalist for Gmail ( Updated )
    • Used to clean up Gmail a little.
      • Hide ads
      • Hide invites
      • Hide Footer
    • Use gmail for mailto: links
    • Hide you are invisible in chat
  • Clip to Evernote
    • I know this existed in FF as well. But it's pretty handy. I use it to sync stuff with my android phone.
  • Facebook Notifications
    • Desktop notifications when someone likes or replies to my stuff. and of course the ubiquitous extension button that shows how many notifications you have. 
  • Google Calendar Checker (by Google)
    • Shows me when my next event is and I can mouse over to see more.
  • Better Google Tasks ( Updated )
    • Exactly the same as Gmail tasks. Used in conjunction with being able to select anything on any webpage and make that a task, and generating tasks from emails. Helps me stay organized.
    • Has a remaining tasks number in Chrome icon.
  • Google Voice (by Google)
    • Checking my voicemail and texting directly from a popup?! Fantastic!
  • Mail Checker Plus for Google Mail
    • If you require more sophisticated notifications from Gmail. Currently disabled for me as I'm trying to live with JUST the Gmail application shortcut.
    • It does allow you to delete mail from the notification though!
    • It's so fancy that I might consider running it just for the fancier notification but hide the icon. Cause I don't really use it for anything else!
  • MightyText - Send/Receive SMS Text Messages
    • SMS integration with android.
  • New Tabs Always Last
    • Just a habit. I always like new tabs to open at the end. One of the things I needed from TabMixPlus
  • RSS Subscription Extension (by Google)
  • SABconnect++
    • At times better than nzbdstatus
  • Silver Bird
    • I never ever use the twitter homepage anymore. Yes I do know about tweetdeck. It's nicer looking, but too heavy for me. I'm not that much of a twitterer. Just use it for desktop notifications of @myname.
    • I also do not want to run another tab, or have another item in my taskbar.
  • SwitchySharp
    • A proxy switcher. Useful when I have to proxy certain websites that have IP restrictions. 
    • Takes regex and wildcard patterns.
    • I also used ProxySwitchy! at some point, for some reason this time I ended up with SwitchySharp this time around.
  • YouTube Downloader
    • It actually works and is fairly innocuous.
about:flags and other goodies

This only applies of course if you use the devchannel of Chrome but things I can't live without are :
  • Multiple Profiles
    • A built in multifox! Handy for work and personal profiles with autologins!
  • Enable pre- and auto-login
    • Less entering of credentials. I know, i know, security hazard, but what the hell. Less keystrokes FTW!
  • Profile syncing
    • If you have multiple machines, fantastic! Well actually it's great just cause if you ever have to reinstall windows. Everything comes back! Yes, it's like weave.

When all else fails, Internet Explorer

I frequently use logmein Free and they don't have an extension of proper plugin for Chrome. Since I don't want to have FF installed. I end up using IE9 and it works 10x better than the flash solution they use for Chrome.

Closing thoughts

Common things people say on why Chrome is better, better standards support, heavy development, more minimal UI. All I have to say to that is Pssssh! All that is superfluous. It wouldn't make me switch browsers. I never had a problem with FF and in fact, my FF was more minimal than chrome. I never had bad memory problems with FF after turning off disk cache and giving it a hard memory limit to use in about:config.Head to head, based on my browsing habits, both browsers were functionally identical to me. 

However, as a portal/platform/nexus for everything I do online on a day to day basis... Chrome ultimately wins.

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