What’s most important in a browser?

By Greg Turnquist

Greg L. Turnquist worked on the Spring team for over thirteen years and is a senior staff technical content engineer at Cockroach Labs. He was the lead for Spring Data JPA and Spring Web Services. He wrote Packt's best-selling title, Learning Spring Boot 2.0 2nd Edition, and its 3rd Edition follow-up along many others.

August 2, 2013

I’m really fascinated at how quickly Google’s Chrome browser has displaced Firefox as the browser of choice. Everywhere I go, people seem to use Chrome. Pay it mind that I run in development circles. Most of the people I see using a computer as devs like me.

Chrome came out in 2008, but probably didn’t start really buzzing for perhaps a year or so. It was around 2010 when I really picked it up and used it full time. My first annoyance was that I would have to give up Firefox’s hallowed Ad Block Plus plugin that had slimmed down many web sites and generally ripped cruft off their pages.

I loved that plugin and everything about Firefox. Firefox was stable, didn’t have the nasty atrocities of Internet Explorer. All my co-workers had used Firefox at work. I dreaded visiting some web pages that only worked in IE, branding the site inferior for clearly having been developed solely in IE. Thankfully, this tended to be internal sites for expense reports, time cards, and other things many of us loathed working with, but was really a small set of sites.

Three years later, and I only use Firefox in the sense that I have two Gmail accounts: one personal and one for work.  My primary browser is Chrome. For personal email, I switch to Firefox. It’s had some nice side effects, such as keeping my alter ego on twitter (https://twitter.com/nashvillejug) conveniently logged in so I can start tweeting during one of our monthly meetings.

Bottom line: I gave up the best tool of all time, ad blocking, and accepted something else. And it appears everyone around me has as well. When we have a new web site to contend with (like the place where our new stock option grant was dispensed), emails quickly fly around how the site doesn’t support “bleeding edge Chrome”. We all seem to grimace together and begrudgingly dig up Firefox or even Safari.

Why? Because Chrome is totally focused on usability. The “omnibar” is a single place where you either enter a web address, a fragment of a web site, or some search criteria, and it goes from there. You don’t have to figure out which field to input your data. It has instant search capabilities to help dredge up sites you have already visited based on what you’re looking for. It also appears to gather metrics and hence tries to find the closest, most recent site based on what you enter.

That is worth the cost of seeing some ads on a web page. For a company that is based on serving up ads, Google seems to do a pretty good job of making them palatable and relevant. I’m no fan of ads, but if they were less targeted, they would be more annoying. And if everyone dropped ads as the way to fund web sites, there would be a lot more paid-for web sites. So in the end, I accept ads. It’s a small price to filter them out of my head in exchange for a really effective browser that efficiently lets me do my job.


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