If you asked me right now, Hey Chris, what’s your favorite browser? I wouldn’t know what to tell you! I’ve been a Firefox user primarily over the past few years, but over the last several months my allegiance is no longer to any one browser. I’m a browser jumper. I feel like it’s only fairly recently that the tools are finally there that I can do that without too much trouble.
Firefox, Chrome, & Safari
When I say I’m a browser jumper, I really only mean those three. I’d love for Opera to join the party. It’s nice and fast. Its Dragonfly developer tool is fully capable, but it doesn’t support two of my crutch tools: XMarks and 1Password. When that day comes, I’ll switch to it at least for a while. I feel like for obvious reasons I don’t use Internet Explorer. It’s just not as good of a browser and I’m not willing to use it other than for testing. Not to mention, I’m on a Mac. Although I do test on it, using VMWare Fusion and a bunch of “Snapshots” where I keep Windows XP and Vista in different states of having native versions of IE 6/7/8/9.
The Major Enablers
My browser jumping is largely enabled by a couple of tools that keep the browser environments synced up for me.
If I had to export and import bookmarks every time, I’d probably never switch. I don’t use the bookmarks menu itself much, but I do like having my bookmarks bar consistent in all browsers (and across computers). I keep it pretty curated so if I make a switch, I want to see it in all my browsers across all my computers. XMarks makes that easy, for free.
I was a little late to the game on 1Password, but I’m playing hard now. Why do you need a password tool? I used to think. My browser already remembers my passwords. Yes, most of them do, but not nearly as nicely as 1Password. 1Password keeps all your usernames/passwords in its database, and through browser extensions, allows you to submit them into sites. It makes having multiple logins for the same site much easier. It also deals with auto-filling forms. It also stores your credit cards in your “wallet” making online purchasing way easier. Not to mention other things like your Driver’s License. It’s very handy not to have to go around digging for that when the situation comes up you need to have that information.
The real advantage though, is that it keeps this information synced across browsers and across computers (using Dropbox sync). Change a password in Firefox on your laptop, go home and use Safari on your desktop and you won’t have any problems.
I like marking things on Delicious for reading later, further reference, just to share, or whatever. It just bugs me when I’m in an environment where I can mark something I’m looking at in Delicious, so I always look for that ability.
|1Password is full powered in Safari, meaning it can fill and submit forms as well as access all your form prefilling data.|
|1Password is equally full powered in Firefox.|
|1Password is pretty crippled in Chrome (it’s only alpha), allowing only the submission of logins. It’s better than nothing though, as I wouldn’t be able to use Chrome without it and I love me some Chrome.|
One of the things that kept me in Firefox for so long was Firebug. OK, the only thing. Firebug is amazing and I believe is still the best developer tool out there. But now the Web Inspector that comes in both Safari and Chrome is nearly as awesome, functionally. It’s actually much prettier, but I debate a few of the UI decisions. Dragonfly in Opera is also very nice, but as I said, I don’t use Opera much. Now that all these browsers have great Developer Tools, it’s not a major determining factor on which I use.
The original king of dev tools, Firebug.
The Web Inspector is much prettier than Firebug (especially in panels like the Resource panel) and just as powerful as Firebug.
My one big gripe with Web Inspector is the folding areas on the right. If you inspect properties a lot, the Metrics is always buried way down. The tabs of Firebug are much easier.
The URL bar handling in Firefox is my favorite of all browsers. When you start typing, it matches what you’ve typed so far by URL and by page titles, which typically yields really smart and useful results. If you type an incomplete web address, the bar will behave like the “Feelin’ lucky” button in Google, where it will take you to the first result for that search term in Google. For example, typing “firebug” will get you to “http://getfirebug.com”. I use this to lazily get to destinations all the time.
Other quick notes on Firefox:
- Firebug is still the best dev tool in my opinion. Other people swear by it in combination with the Web Developer Toolbar. I just never got into the WDT thing.
- The Open With add-on is nice for browser jumpers. It provides a contextual menu for opening the page you are currently viewing in other browsers.
This would be a good time to mention Choosy as well. Non-Firefox specific, but allows for browser choice in opening links.
- Multifirefox is a great tool for having around multiple version of Firefox (for testing). Simply download old versions of Firefox and rename the Application file (like “Firefox 2.app”). Then launch this application to start any version of Firefox, and you’ll be able to pick a particular profile and particular version. That way you can keep multiple versions open simultaneously which you cannot otherwise.
- Screengrab is a great extension for Firefox that can take a snap shot of the entire length of a webpage. I haven’t found an alternative (other than Paparazzi, which is super old) in other browsers.
- Firefox has an official Delicious add-on.
The URL bar handling in Safari is my least favorite of the three. It matches what you start typing by both URL and page title, but the dropdown results are more generic and less helpful than Firefox. Also remember how Firefox allows entering a keyword with the “Feelin Lucky” like results, if you try and put a generic search string in Safari you’ll likely just get an error page.
I feel like Safari should step it up in this department. Although it’s likely just because I’m so used to Firefox.
Other notes about Safari:
- Safari has an annoying default where, when it is the default browser and another application tells it to open a link, it will default to opening in a new window. I doubt very many people prefer that behavior, preferring instead to have new links open in tabs. Thankfully there is a fix for that.
- Viewing source in Safari yields non-highlighted, non-linked, non-line-numbered, lifeless code. You can fix that with the BetterSource extension.
- This is what I use for Delicious in Safari, but there is also a native extension now as well.
- You can re-open a closed tab in Safari with Command-Z, but that re-opened tab does not retain it’s history, which is awful.
Noteable about Chrome is that it doesn’t have a separate URL bar and search bar, it is combined. This is clever as a space-saving UI feature, but takes a bit of getting used to. For example, in Firefox or Safari typing “getfirebug” will instantly get you to “http://getfirebug.com”, but Chrome, in seeing that as not a full URL, will do a Google search for it, and require you an additional click to get to where you want to get. I feel like if any browser should have “Feelin’ Lucky” type behavior, it’s Chrome, but I can also understand that without a dedicated search field, this is impossible.
Other notes about Chrome:
- Chrome has very nice View Source
- Chrome has a neat search feature where it shows you the scroll positions of the matches it finds.
- There is now an official extension for Delicious in Chrome.
- Chrome shows page titles in the tab, but has no dedicated area at the top to show full page titles, which can feel weird.
Even after typing all that up, I couldn’t pick a winner. I quite like them all. Their little positives and negatives cancel each other out as far as I’m concerned. Noticed I didn’t mention speed. You can feel subtle speed difference between them on different sites but nothing to write home about. I also find that all three of them crash from time to time, and that none at any noticeably higher rate.
Is this what they want?
If we could attend secret strategy meetings for these browser vendors, would we discover that this easy interchangeability is what they were going for? Or would we hear planning for future strategies to differentiate themselves more firmly? We web workers are always fighting for the web to behave the same in all browsers, but do we want that fight to be brought to the browsers UI and functionality themselves?
I really don’t know. In some ways I appreciate how easy it has become to switch around, but at the same time have to wonder what is happening in competition and innovation if the final products have become so similar.
I’m sure you all have favorite browsers, favorite tools, and favorite techniques for browser jumping. Feel free to share!