Mozilla Firefox has been my default web browser for the past four or five years, but during the past year I've also had Google Chrome open on my second monitor and I've switched back and forth depending on which program was handier. I hesitated to jump to Chrome as my default browser even though it was noticeably faster than Firefox, primarily because I wasn't sure that I could replicate all of Firefox's features that I'd come to rely on over the years.
But earlier this week I took the plunge and made Chrome my default browser, and I've been quite content with the change...once I learned a few things about how it works. I thought I'd document some of what I've learned in case you're a Firefox user who is new to Chrome, or is considering a change. None of these things are mysterious secrets, but perhaps having them in one place will make someone's life a bit easier.
- Search engine management - One of the features of Firefox that I really like is the ability to use a dropdown menu built into the search box to select a different search engine. If I want to search Wikipedia or IMDB.com, for example, rather than Google or Yahoo, I can easily select one of them, type my search word or phrase, and that's where the search results will originate.
Chrome, on the other hand, doesn't even have a search box. Instead, it uses the address bar (which, in Chrome vernacular, is called an "omnibar") for not only entering website URLs, but also for initiating searches. The browser attempts to interpret what you type into the omnibar, and if it looks like an URL, it takes you to the corresponding website. If it doesn't, Chrome assumes you're initiating a search, and sends the request to the Google search engine (big surprise, huh?). Once you get used to this behavior, it's pretty cool, and Chrome does an outstanding job of interpreting your wishes based on what you type. But what appears to be missing is the ability to direct your search to something other than Google.
All is not lost. Open Chrome's Preferences, and you'll find a Search setting where you can specify the default search engine for the omnibar. However, this still didn't solve the problem, because what I really wanted to do is be able to specify a different search engine temporarily - for a one-time search - and going back and forth to the Preferences panel is not a realistic solution. The solution does exist within the Preferences, though. Click on the "Manage Search Engines" button and you'll see a list of available search engines (if you imported your Firefox settings when you started using Chrome - which I strongly recommend - that list will be the same as what you were using in Firefox), and each website will have a keyword. If you type that keyword followed by a colon (:) in the omnibar, Chrome will assume you want to search that website and will do so, instead of using your default search engine.
So, say you wanted to search Wikipedia for "chrome." Simply type "wiki chrome" (without the quote marks) into the omnibar. Note that if you don't like the keyword assigned to a search engine, you can change it in the Preferences panel.
- Browser state retention - Another of Firefox's features that I like is the ability to instruct it to reopen all the tabs and windows that were in use when the application was shut down. When you quit the application, the browser asks you if you want to save those settings (unless you tell it not to bug you about it). But when I started using Chrome, it wasn't obvious that it had that capability, and that was a big deal. I'll often have 20+ tabs open and if the browser crashes or I shut down my computer, I want to get those tabs back.
The solution, once again, is in Chrome's Preferences panel. In the Basics category, there's an section entitled "On Startup." Simply check the button that says "Reopen the pages that were open last."
- Extensions - Finally, one of Firefox's strengths is its active community of plugin developers, who work to extend the browser's capabilities by providing customized add-on functions. There are thousands of Firefox extensions (of varying quality and usefulness), and I came to rely on several of them for day-to-day work and browsing. I didn't want to lose that functionality with a switch to Chrome.
I was pleased to find that Chrome's extensions have multiplied rapidly with its increasing popularity, and the Chrome Web Store now "stocks" add-ons that are either identical to my favorites for Firefox, or replicate their functionality. Most extensions are free. A few of my favorites:
- Firebug Lite - a web development extension that allows you to inspect the code of any website. (Note: the full version of Firebug is not yet available for Chrome, but they're working on it.)
- Web Developer - another geeky tool to inspect under the hood of a website
- View Image Info - an unimaginatively named add-on that's quite useful: right-click on any image and it will provide dimensions, file type, file size, and URL.
- Tin Eye Reverse Image Search - Use this extension to search for other occurrences on the web of a specific image, even if it's been cropped or resized. (Note: the verdict is still out on the usefulness of this add-on.)
- Better Facebook - This add-on extends the capabilities of Facebook and offers a lengthy array of features. Most of them aren't useful to me, but it's worth getting the extension solely for the ability to hover over any image and see a pop-up of the larger version. (Note: the initial version of this extension was fairly buggy but updates seem to have made it quite stable.)
I also expect the competition to yield improvements in Firefox, so I'll keep an eye on that browser, too. Who knows? Another switch is always a possibility.