Browser Wars 2009: Or who I left Google Chrome for

Writers are like web browsers, we are portals to information. Being as such, some of us do it better than others just like with browsers. Recently, I’ve been having problems with my web browser of choice, Google Chrome, or as I now affectionately call it, Google Crash (bet you can’t guess why). 

My main PC is a 700GR Gateway that has a unique feature built into is hardware. At the time of purchase it was one of the few desktops that could handle a 3.4 Ghz processor because of an induction cowl over the processor and pushing and pulling, variable speed, 4” fans. That variable speed note means that when the computer is not doing much, the fan runs slow and quietly, when you’ve got a bunch of processor using work going, they spin like crazy and you can hear it. And that’s all it’s been doing lately is whirring like crazy . . . at least until Crash chromes- er, I mean, Chrome crashes.

That led me to staring at my task manager for the past few days as I tried to figure out what to do about web browsing. I ran layman tests with various browsers, Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and even Safari. I say “layman tests” because I don’t know how to code things to do real benchmark tests. What I can do is watch the CPU and Mem Usage columns on the task manager window and see what they do. Basically, I wasn’t impressed.

Then I took to doing what all writers need to learn to do well and started researching. There are a lot of articles pointing to FireFox as the great end-all-be-all for browsing. Those who know anything about browsers know that FF has had a big problem with being a black hole for system resources. It sucks memory like a Hoover, or at least it did. 

As it turns out, the Mozilla team has fixed this with their latest version and now FF uses the least amount of RAM in the group. Good news, but I don’t really like the feel of FF. It bores me. Maybe it’s because I used it for so long before getting fed up with the memory issues and converting to Chrome.

But, here are the facts: Firefox comes out on top in more than one review. It’s not the fastest, but it’s safer than IE (Internet Explorer) and provides a lot of customization. It’s that customization that makes it unstable later on and what leads to RAM leaking down the road. 

Rusty Chrome

Opera came in second place in one of the reviews I read. I had not heard of it before so I installed it and took it for a spin. The latest stable version seemed to move a bit sluggishly for me. I’m used to Chrome that zips about the net like an old hotrod. Therein lies the trouble with Chrome: like an old hotrod, it’s bare bones muscle car features leave you with no A/C, power anything, and no real chance for those of us who don’t know programming to do any modifications. It’s also unstable. All that power tends to throw rods. 

This graph from an article by Sam Allen on Firefox memory usage shows just how unstable it really is. Other than the crashes that I and others have experienced, memory tests put this browser all over the board. It can be deceiving when looking at your task manager because Chrome opens up a new instance for each tab you open. So when you look at the TM you have to add up the memory being used by each instance. Supposedly this is to keep the entire browser from crashing, but it hasn’t worked that way for me. Each time it crashes, the whole thing goes down. Most times it remembers what pages I was on when it crashed and reloads them for me when I start it back up, but man is it frustrating. 

Getting Some Culture

Looking into Opera more, I decided that there had to be some way to speed it up, especially since there are so many options for tweaking it. This ability to change settings puts it on the opposite end of the spectrum from Chrome. And as the above article notes, Opera’s bad scores are based on standard settings. With a few simple adjustments (which I have aggregated for you from across the web at the end of this article) you can breeze through the net just as fast as if you were using Chrome. 

And Opera not only has the same favorites start page as Chrome, but it actually let’s you choose your own favorites instead of having Chrome show you where you go most often- they call it “Speed Dialing” in Opera. Opera also has gestures, a feature that Google has incorporated into their Gmail service but has not included in Chrome.

Basically, gestures allow you to hold your right mouse button and move your mouse in specific directions to cause actions to occur. For instance, Right mouse while moving the mouse up and then down will reload your page. Right mouse and left will take you back. Right mouse and right takes you forward. Opera even guesses at what you’re intending on doing. So, if you do a search or start in on an album of pictures, rather than finding the “next picture” button, you can gesture for Opera to take you forward and it will take you to the next page in the series even if you haven’t been there yet.

Opera also has that cool hover preview thing like the Vista OS where it will show you a thumbnail of what that tab is. And for anyone who sits and stares at their browser while waiting for a page to load and thinks, “What the hell is taking so long?” Opera has a status bar that actually answers the question for you. You can set it up to pop up over the address bar. This way you know whether or not that blank spot on the page is there because it’s done or because something got left out.

For all of these reasons, I put Opera at the top of my list. I started to get worried about its memory consumption because it appeared to not be able to free up RAM even after having tabs closed. I got to a point one night where I was using over 500 Mbs for just a couple tabs. After restarting Opera, it climbed up to 270, which is right around where most browsers seem to run. (Somehow it read my mind and knew that I was going to complain about that, and now, with no fewer tabs than before, I’m down to 107. Go figure.)

While Opera passes every standard imaginable, unlike all of the other browsers available, it does have an issue with displaying some sites because those site makers don’t code to standards, the number one offender: Facebook.

Supposedly, Opera get’s its speed through maximizing the efficiency in standards; because FB doesn’t follow them, and instead builds to FF and IE, it causes Opera to choke a little. But just a little. For instance, I can’t get the “see more comments” button to work on FB. (Apparently this issue has vanished since I wrote that a few days ago. Did I mention that Opera also has the best complaint-to-resolution times for web browsers? That’s why its security is so high. Techy guys find the issue, report on it, and BAM, the Opera wizards fix it.)

As I started to do a little more research for this post I happened upon an article rating something called Flock as the number two browser behind FF. At first I wasn’t going to bother with it, already entranced by the European beauty of Opera, but then they mentioned something about posting an update to one place and having it show up everywhere.

Flocking Around

Flock is based on the FF browser, so it has all of the same functionality and safety as the latest version of FF. It seems to lack a little in the security area, putting it in the same league as IE but ahead of Safari. It doesn’t have gestures or speed-dialing and it doesn’t get around as quickly either, but what it does do is link all of your social networking sites into your browser. And as those of you who looked at the posts from the weekend already know, it lets you blog via your browser, uploading to your blog account whether it be in LiveJournal, Blogger, or any other of a number of blog hosts. It will even go into your Facebook account and post an update letting everyone know that you just updated your blog. 

I tend to dislike sidebars and cluttered screens; that’s why I gravitate to Chrome, but Flock actually fills up their sidebar with something useful (and if you don’t want it there you can make it go away). Flock organizes all of your social networks together so that you can see all those important mood updates without going to FB, Twitter, MySpace and more. It also allows you to post updates to your own mood without going to those sites. If you chat via FB, the chat bar is linked into the browser so that you don’t have to be on FB to use it. 

There is also an easy way to set up a web-based favorites account that links right into your favorites sidebar. I’ve heard about before but have never had the inclination to set up an account since I’ve not wanted to go to a special website to get my links. These days I work on my laptop, desktop, and wife’s computer and save links on all of them. Links are scattered everywhere. With flock, I have them all at my disposal no matter where I am at. 


So what’s the verdict?

In the end Flock was just too distracting for me. You’ve always got that sidebar staring at you, saying, “Look, look at what so and so just said.” Sure you can close it, but oh the temptation. Besides, it doesn’t show you EVERYTHING. You can only see people’s updated mood settings. You don’t see the new pictures they post, the back and forth messages, or posts that they make via applications (like when I use Networked Blogs to pull my feed from my blog and post it on FB). It has also missed a few updates of friend’s moods during my test drive. 

The one time posting I was all excited about turned out to be less than expected. You can post to Twitter or MySpace and have it update Facebook with the same message, but you can’t do all three at once. There is also no way to separate users, so unless you’re using the browser solely on your own machine that no one else touches, you run the risk of leaving yourself open to snooping. Not that I have anything to hide mind you . . . .

I’ve been searching and searching for ways to make Flock be the perfect fit, but it’s not.

I’ve decided to go with the sexy European model, Opera, for the majority of my web browsing. While their plug-in doesn’t work for the beta version 10 just yet, I’m sure they’ll get around to fixing it. I’ve uninstalled Firefox, Safari, and Chrome. Because Flock is built on the FF code, I’ll keep it around as my Mozilla-based browser. IE is going to hang around for watching Netflix on demand and anything that Opera might choke on.

That being said

If you’ve waded through all of this and are thinking, “I might give that Opera thing a shot,” I have to warn you: you have to do a few tweaks. They’re easy, but if you don’t change these settings you’re going to be looking at a slow download, thinking, “That Dave guy is full of crap.”

First: Download the Opera 10 beta. Each version of Opera is faster than its predecessor and this is the fastest yet.

Second: Start tweaking.

Disable Auto Completion

Opera’s address bar can be used like Chrome’s, as a search field. I can’t remember all of the special engines you can use (found it, look under the ‘Search’ tab on the ‘Preferences’ window) but for example if you type [g dogs] it will search Google for dogs. Typing other letters in place of ‘g’ will give you other search engines, so in a way it’s more powerful than Chrome. But it will also try to auto complete what you’re typing by searching your computer for the answer and that sucks up the processor speed.

Click Tools>Preferences>Advanced (from the tabs)>Network (from the left hand menu)>Server Name Completion (button) and uncheck “Look for local network machine” and “Try name completion, using.”  

Reload Banners?

So, you know that ‘cache’ thing techy people are always talking about? I guess what it does is basically save parts of web pages to your computer. This allows your browser to load elements of the page without having to wait for it to be downloaded. It seems that some sites don’t like that because they want you to have to look at new ads and the like every time you visit their page. Opera allows you to ignore that.

Type “opera:config” in the address bar and hit enter. This brings up the Preferences Editor (it’s a different one from before, trust me). Rather than having to try and find certain settings by reading through all the things in Opera that you can adjust, they provide you with a search bar. Type “expiry” into that search bar and hit enter. Change both “Check Expiry History” and “Check Expiry Load” to (1).

While You’re in “opera:config” Adjust Connection Settings

Not really sure what this does, but I read it in a forum and it immediately sped up the browser when I did it.

Click the “Show All” button so that you can get back to seeing all of the categories again. Scroll down until you get to “Performance” and click on that option. This brings up connection settings and the like. Change yours to look like those in the picture:

Max Connections Server: 16
Max Connections Total: 64
Network Buffer Size: 32
Uncheck: Reduce Max Persistent HTTP Connections

Instant Redraw

Not sure what this does either, but it works.

Tools> Prefrences> Advanced> Browsing> Try Redraw Instantly


And there you have it. Those are all the tweaks that I’ve found that I think deserve noting. If you save many pictures, one of the articles noted how you can use ‘control’ and a left mouse click on a picture to automatically bring up the ‘save as’ window as opposed to finding it in the right mouse click menu.  


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