Why Google Chrome is better than Firefox and Internet Explorer.

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Feb. 4 2010 4:50 PM

The Best Web Browser on the Planet

Why Google Chrome beats Firefox and Internet Explorer.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker. Click image to expand.

I like to think of myself as the Dick Cheney of the Browser Wars—an unyielding proponent of greater and greater hostilities between the developers working on Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer, and Opera. As all these programmers compete with one another to make faster, more stable, and more intuitive browsers, we Web surfers keep winning. Just two years ago, nearly half of the folks online used Internet Explorer 6.0—the slowest, buggiest, most security-flawed browser on the market. Since then, Microsoft, spurred by its rivals' advances, has released the very good I.E. 8, which is now the Web's most popular browser. I.E. 6 is still around, but now that many sites (including Google) are dropping support for it, its share is sure to plummet. All hail the great Browser War!

Another benefit of this ceaseless conflict: Browsers keep getting faster. Mike Beltzner, the director of Firefox at Mozilla, told me recently that his browser's "javascript engine"—which runs complex, interactive Web applications like Gmail or Google Maps—is 20 percent faster in the new Firefox 3.6 than in the previous version. Keep in mind that the previous version was released just last June. Can you think of anything else in the world that can get 20 percent better in only a few months? When I asked Beltzner how coders managed that feat, he pointed to his rivals. "Were there not other competitors who were just as interested in making Web browsers faster, I don't know if we'd be able to find the gains that we can find," he said. "Now it's a game of one-upping each other."

With apologies to Beltzner, though, I'm not going to recommend that everyone jump to the new version of Firefox. To be sure, Firefox is a fantastic browser, and if you're a fan, you'll do no wrong by upgrading. But even though I've been a Firefox devotee since its release, and even though it has long been my default browser, today I'm declaring a new allegiance. I've decided to switch entirely to Google's Chrome. You should, too.

This is not a recent infatuation. I've been using Chrome side-by-side with Firefox since the Google browser's debut in 2008. From the start, there was much to love. Chrome was deliciously fast—it started quickly, loaded pages in a flash, and never stuttered while playing Web videos. Chrome was the first browser to keep its different computational "processes" separated—each tab or browser plug-in is given individualized access to your computer's resources. That means that if one open tab encounters an error, the rest of your browsing session remains intact.

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I also loved Chrome's minimal interface. Most browsers have two input bars at the top—an address bar and a search box. Chrome has one. Type in an address or a search term and Chrome will figure out what you want. Indeed, Chrome does something even better—it gives you search results right in the bar. Type in "jd salinger" and the first result in the drop-down list is the Wikipedia entry on Salinger. Want to visit your favorite political blogger? Type in "nate silver" and you immediately get a link to Silver's site, Fivethirtyeight.com. This is a terrific way to navigate the Web—you never have to remember URLs, or even the names of sites, and you don't even have to make a stop at Google to find what you're looking for.

But Chrome originally had a few shortcomings that kept me from signing up full-time. Firefox's main virtue is its flexibility—it's got a huge gallery of add-ons that give it many fantastic powers. There were many Firefox extensions that I couldn't do without, including ones that blocked ads and kept my bookmarks synchronized across computers. Until Chrome added these features, I couldn't leave.

With Chrome's latest upgrades, all that has changed. Late last month, Google released Chrome 4, the latest "stable" version of the browser. Bookmark syncing is now built in: Turn it on and your bookmarks are available on other computers running Chrome. The browser now also runs Greasemonkey scripts, little bits of code that allow you to change how certain Web pages are displayed. (For instance, here's a script that turns all Google pages black, purportedly to reduce "eye fatigue." Here's another that lets you accept all your Facebook requests at once.) Finally, and most importantly, Chrome now does extensions. It's already got a huge library of Firefox-style add-ons that improve many different parts of the browser. I installed several of them in one gulp, including AdBlock—a great though dubiously ethical way to keep lots of tabs open without slowing down your computer.

Now, some caveats. We all browse the Web differently, so your mileage may vary. I think Chrome is perfect for high-volume consumers of the Web—idiots like me who keep several browser windows open concurrently, each populated with dozens of tabs, and don't restart the browser for days and days on end. More casual Web users may find its unusual interface—and its lack of support for third-party interface add-ons like the Yahoo Toolbar—hard to get used to. Also, Chrome has far fewer extensions than Firefox does, so it's possible that you won't find a certain add-on program that you consider indispensible. And then there's Mac support—although Google did release a great Mac version of Chrome last year, it still lags slightly behind the Windows and Linux version, and will only get extensions support in a forthcoming release.

Still, most people would do well to switch, or at least to give Google a try. Chrome makes browsing a dream, and it just keeps getting better. The teams at Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer, and Opera should take notice: Chrome's now the one to beat.

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Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough.

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