A few months ago, I finally left Opera as my default browser on Linux. That’s a tough sell because the Opera Workspaces feature is something I don’t think I can afford to leave behind. However, the browser load placed on my computer (especially when using Google Docs) is too big a problem to ignore. I was about to work together, minding my own business, when suddenly Opera made the desktop stop working.
Productivity, your name is a memory leak!
At the time, I used two different browsers as my defaults, on Linux and macOS, and I’m sure Safari will remain the choice on the Mac side. But then I continued to use the default browser on Linux and, day by day, was more and more impressed with its performance and simplicity. And then things got even worse in Safari. As with Opera, when working with longer documents in Google Docs, Safari will display a warning saying that the site is using too much memory. No matter what I do with Safari, the behavior won’t stop.
Finally, two days ago, I left Safari to make the same browser I use on Linux as the default on macOS. This is a choice I don’t regret for a second.
That doesn’t mean I find myself using only one browser. Oh no. Is it very simple. You see, there are still sites that I have to use, for whatever reason, designed with Chrome in mind. And that’s a problem. Why? Because Chrome has become unreliable on many levels. On Linux, I make Chrome lock the desktop too often. On macOS, Chrome drains battery faster than any other app (with the exception of Final Cut Pro, when rendering video).
This problem is complicated. Why? First and foremost, a browser is one of those tools that everyone uses. Whatever your platform, you depend on a web browser. I would go so far as to say 90% of the work and entertainment you do on any computing device is through a web browser. That means the ubiquitous app has to pull a tremendous amount of weight. For the most part, they all did pretty well. Every web browser I’ve used renders the site just fine (though some are better than others). So, what’s the problem? Why would anyone have trouble choosing the truly best browser for their use case or migrating to a different browser altogether?
In short: Familiarity.
We all have our workflows. Many of us have adapted our workflows to certain web browsers’ ways of doing things. To be honest, on the surface, the difference is not that big. Each browser offers many of the same standard features:
- Saved data
- Configuration options
- Privacy features
The biggest difference is how each browser implements these features.
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Of course, that’s on the surface… where the users live. When you dig a little deeper than you find the browser starts to differ. Take, for example, the fact that there are five active web browser rendering engines:
- WebKit —Safari
- Blink—Chrome and Chromium-based browsers (such as Microsoft Edge, Opera, Brave, and Vivaldi)
- Goanna—Pale Moon and Basilisk
- Stream—Browser flow
Of all the browsers I’ve used, those based on the WebKit and Blink rendering engines seem to have the biggest problems with longer documents on Google Drive. And for me, that’s a big problem. I work on Google Drive about seven to nine hours a day. And that the Blink rendering engine has the biggest problems with Google Drive should be surprising, considering how both are created (and maintained) by Google.
But since I switched to Firefox (on Linux and macOS), I haven’t had a single problem with memory issues. And, much to my surprise, Firefox is no longer a battery vampire on macOS. Prior to my MacBook Pro M1, Firefox drained the will to power on my 2016 MacBook Pro battery. When using Firefox, I was lucky to get two to three hours of battery life. With the M1 and Firefox 89, battery life is as good as when using Safari.
Beyond performance, rendering, and battery life, I really like what Mozilla has done to the Firefox interface. Gone is the mess and bloating. Now, Firefox is a sleek (almost minimalistic) browser that outperforms all browsers on my desktop and laptop. I’ve even migrated my Android defaults to Firefox and find it as impressive a mobile browser as it is on the desktop.
Of course, the only snag in my master plan is the fact that (as I mentioned earlier) there are still sites that don’t work properly with any browser other than Chrome. That is of course astonishing. Whenever I see a website refusing to work in a particular browser, I immediately assume that Doc Brown has stopped at Delorian and set his sights on 2001. But this isn’t the early 2000s, nor is it the old browser wars. Even so, the environment seems ripe for a quick clash between Firefox and Chrome. And while Chrome has a huge market share advantage (currently having 67% market share over competitors), the current state of performance doesn’t reflect that popularity. If I had to guess, I’d say Google is just lucky the average user doesn’t like the change or doesn’t even realize there are alternatives available. If you fall into that category, I highly recommend that you install Firefox and see if you don’t set it as the default on all your devices and platforms.