With the release of Firefox 4 Beta 1, Mozilla is preparing to once again take on Google’s Chrome, Opera Software’s Opera and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. The company finds itself in a good position. As the world’s second-most popular browser, Firefox is poised to continue its growth and eventually supplant Internet Explorer as the top program in the space.
Of course, achieving that goal could be more difficult than ever. Google Chrome is gaining market share at a rapid rate, thanks to the browser’s ability to load Web pages far more quickly than the competition. Even Internet Explorer gained a little share in June, even though Microsoft is forced to give European Windows users their choice of browsers. Simply put, the market is heating up.
But it’s Chrome that may be Mozilla’s biggest competition in the browser market. It’s quickly gaining ground, and it arguably delivers the best experience of any browser on the market. And even though Firefox 4 is still at the beta stage, and the final release is potentially far off, one thing is clear: Chrome continues to reign supreme as the browser with the best design and performance. Let’s examine why Google Chrome is still better than Firefox 4.
1. Firefox loads too slowly
A major problem with Firefox in the past has been that it starts up too slowly compared with other browsers. Mozilla obviously realized that and did a fine job, at least in Windows 7, of making Firefox 4 load far more quickly. But it’s still too slow when compared with Chrome. It’s not necessarily a deal-breaker-the difference is about 1 or 2 seconds-but it’s noticeable enough for some users who require zippy actions to opt for Chrome over Mozilla’s product.
2. Browsing is still slow
A browser’s ability to load pages will determine which software people will use on a regular basis to surf the Web. When comparing Firefox 4 with Chrome, it quickly becomes apparent that the latter browser does a much better job of loading pages. In some cases, large, detailed pages load nearly twice as fast in Chrome than in Firefox. Mozilla’s latest browser beta is admittedly much faster than its predecessor, but until Firefox does a better job of quickly loading pages, most folks will likely opt for Google’s browser.
3. A multicapable address bar is missing
One of the key components in Chrome is the ability to use its address bar both for search and for typing in a URL. In Firefox 4, the functionality is similar. Users can type a URL into the address bar and go to the desired site, or they can type in a search query and get the first site listed in Google search results. That’s certainly better than nothing, but it would be nice if the address bar doubled as a true search field, rather than being flanked by a search bar. It’s not necessarily an annoyance, but it’s just another example of Chrome doing a slightly better job than Mozilla’s latest browser.
4. The design feels nice, but borrowed
A quick comparison between previous versions of Firefox and the new iteration of the browser shows just how far Firefox 4 has come in design. It’s a much nicer browser that longtime Firefox fans will like. But further inspection reveals that it looks awfully similar to Chrome on Windows 7. Not only has Mozilla consolidated menus, as Chrome did, but Firefox has also taken on a similar skin to Chrome. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, since Chrome is so well-designed, but it seems rather unfortunate that Mozilla couldn’t come up with something a little more unique to challenge Google’s browser with.
Firefox Design Moving in the Wrong Direction
5. Ease of use is gone
Firefox won a lot of converts because of its ease of use. In previous versions of the software, folks could easily access menus, find bookmarks and generally enjoy the efficiency of the application. In fact, Firefox was arguably better than Chrome in terms of usability. But all that has changed. Firefox 4 has jumbled menus that aren’t broken out any longer. Chrome users will feel right at home, but those who enjoy having easy access to top-level menus will find Firefox 4 shocking at first glance. Firefox 4 just isn’t as easy to use as earlier versions were. And that’s unfortunate.
6. Moving tabs is a pain
It might be a small issue, but the way tabs are moved in Firefox 4 needs to be improved before the software’s final build is made public. In Chrome, moving a tab is a simple matter of dragging it from one place to another. Along the way, the other tabs shift, and it’s easy to see where the tab is going. But in Firefox 4, that isn’t the case. The browser’s tabs don’t move as a page is dragged across the bar, and the only help given to the user is a simple blue arrow that is too difficult to see in Windows 7. It’s nice to be able to move tabs, but if the functionality isn’t smooth, it will be frustrating to users.
7. The design lacks intuitiveness
One of the main problems with Firefox 4 is that its new design lacks the kind of intuitive design that users are looking for. There is a prominent address bar and the search box is still to the right of it, but with different options hidden both at the upper left of the page and to the right of the search box, too much moving around and clicking is required to find the features users really want. It seems that rather than develop a design that understands what people want to do with a browser and helps them do it more efficiently, Mozilla decided to lump everything together into a couple of menus. It’s unfortunate. An intuitive design is central to a browser’s success or failure. And Firefox 4 doesn’t have that.
8. HTML5 is nice, but expected
The addition of HTML5 support in Firefox 4 could be the browser’s most desired new feature. Users will now be able to view content in the new standard no matter where they go on the Web. But excitement over the addition of HTML5 seems rather overblown. Yes, it’s nice to have the standard Apple supports, but its inclusion seems like an obvious move on the part of a company that’s trying to keep up with changing Web platforms. Firefox 4 was forced to support HTML5, considering that much of the competition already accommodates it in one form or another. It’s nice to have it, but let’s not get too excited about it.
9. It’s simple-to a point
Throughout the process of using Firefox 4, one issue continued to pop up: The browser is far simpler than previous versions in some areas, but in others, it’s far more complicated. In other words, Firefox 4 is very much a tradeoff experience. On the one hand, thanks to its prominent address bar and useful search bar, it’s simple and a viable alternative to Chrome. But when trying to, say, look at a page source or just view saved bookmarks, it becomes far more complicated than it needs to be. This is a major design flaw that should be addressed in the final build.
10. Future potential
When it comes time to compare one browser with another, future potential must be considered. Although there is a lot of upside to Mozilla’s Firefox 4, and it provides a great starting point for even better versions of the application in the future, Chrome has the most potential of any browser on the market. Not only will the software play a key role in Chrome OS, but it’s fast, it’s well-designed and there are several things Google can do to improve the browser far beyond any other program on the market. If future potential is a component in deciding which browser is better, Chrome wins.