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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Google Chrome vs. Firefox -- a genealogist's perspective

With a few stellar exceptions, most of the genealogists I know are far more interested in genealogy than they are in technology per se. Since both avocations take a great deal of time, it is not surprising that they would make decisions more in favor of doing genealogy than tinkering around with the newest technological whiz bang. Some times I think my brain is going explode trying to keep up even partially to both areas. There is a major area of overlap. Genealogy is rapidly becoming more and more technology based.

Among genealogists, even those who are comfortable using newer technology, there is a tendency to be very cautiously conservative. I know a significant number of genealogists who are still using Windows 95 or perhaps Windows 98. It is not unusual for me to discuss genealogy with someone who is running PAF 5.2 on a Pentium 2 computer. So when I get into a discussion about web browsers, the majority of people I talk to are not even aware that there is a choice. They use Internet Explorer because it came with their computer. Without getting into the argument about Microsoft's bundling of software, chances are, that the average genealogist is using Explorer.

In discussing this with many of my compatriots, I almost universally get the reaction that they didn't even know that there was an alternative and they are not much interested in changing. But here it goes anyway. You will immediately notice that I do not compare either Firefox or Chrome to Internet Explorer. Mainly for the reason that I do not use Internet Explorer at all on personal computers. I do however, use it almost every day at work, at the Mesa Regional Family History Center and on almost everyone else's computers.

This is an interesting fact because some statistics show Firefox with almost 50% of the web use. While other statistics show Explorer use at over 50%. If you look around for a while you find that the most believable statistics show Internet Explorer with about 60% of the web browser use and Firefox a distant second at about 24%. The only other major web browsers with a significant market penetration are Google's Chrome and Apple's Safari.

I have used Firefox for many years for a long list of reasons, most of which have to do with reliability and the fact that it is more resistant to malware and viruses. I routinely use Safari on my iMacs, because until Apple converted to Intel chips, Firefox did not run as well on the Mac computers. Chrome, introduced in 2008, has steadily increased its market share, apparently mostly at Explorer's expense.

Recently Chrome was updated to version 5. With this recent upgrade, I have been comparing Chrome to Firefox. It is hard to say which of the two browsers is really better. Both have a ton of add-on apps and special features. When configured with iGoogle, both look almost the same and operate in a very similar fashion. On my computer, using a cable Internet provider, there is almost no appreciable difference in speed between the two, although Chrome load slightly quicker. Both are to the point that they appear to blink into existence. However, if you load up iGoogle with lots of slow apps, Firefox really starts to slow down. Whereas, Google knows Google and they have apparently taken pains too optimize the use of Google apps, as could only be expected.

I see very little difference in the online experience. If you go online to look for reviews, you might want to check the date. Even a review six months ago is not going to reflect the current versions of either browser. For example, a review of Chrome written in February of this year refers to version 4 not the current version 5. It is also very difficult to separate real reviews from Microsoft or Google bashers.

What it seems to me to boil down to is that most technologically savvy people switch from using Internet Explorer (unless they work for Microsoft). Presently, the choice becomes one of personal preference. The present version of Chrome is a huge improvement over the first releases. If it continues to get better at the a similar rate, it will like become more appealing than Firefox. Since both are free, it is anyone's guess how the usage ratings will come out. It is a sure thing however, that both will continue to take market share from Microsoft, unless Microsoft does something really spectacular.

Now, what about the genealogists who are running Windows 98 on a 486 or Pentium 2? Don't bother changing. One of the reasons I switched back to Mac from my PC was the fact that iGoogle would not run at all on my slower older machine. It was taking anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes to load my standard page. Now with my iMac, the same page takes less time than I can efficiently measure. It is up in blink of an eye. If you do have a newer very fast computer, then by all means download Firefox and Chrome and have a look at both. Both will import all of your existing bookmarks so you don't lose anything by trying them out.

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