I originally intended on writing a technical blog post, but over the weekend while researching my topic, the unspeakable happened… My computer crashed. The reason: Google Chrome. I know, right. This came as a shock to me too. The majority of developers here at the office use Chrome, the browser touted as being fast, light, versatile, etc. But Chrome has a very dark secret… It is now a memory hog.
As soon as I rebooted my machine, 10 seconds flat, I began researching the crash. I learned that Chrome has had serious memory issues since October 2012. This has never been an issue for me in the past with 8GB RAM and all, but when Chrome is using 3-4GB of my precious gaming…er…I mean programming RAM, I start to notice and so did Windows. At this point there was only one thing on my mind, back to Firefox. (DISCLAIMER: For all you Firefox fanboys out there, this is not a Firefox is the best browser ever!!!)
Something was different this time. I felt like I was in a deja-vu moment. Oh yeah, I experienced this moment before when I switched from Firefox to Chrome for similar reasons. So being wiser than I was last time, I asked myself, “What do I want out of a browser?” Here’s the breakdown:
This is probably the most important feature to me. Chrome was great for having their sync everything across all browsers. I love it, but the thing that matters the most to me when it comes down to it is my bookmarks. So there were a couple of options out there that I looked at. I made the mistake of jumping into Delicious first, but when I saw the “Signup with Facebook” and “Signup with Twitter” buttons, I ran away. Turns out with Delicious, you’re meant to share your bookmarks by default. Not my cup of tea.
The next thing I stumbled across was Xmarks, which is what I am using now. They have free and paid versions and there is extensions for most browsers. The free features include support for major browsers, bookmark and tab synchronization, password protection, and encryption. This alone is enough for me, but if you want to bring your bookmarks on the go, you might want to opt in for the paid version.
When it comes to password protection, I’m very meticulous. I like to generate a random alphanumerical string of at least 12 characters and attempt to memorize it. This normally takes me about a month to get down, and becomes difficult if I sign up for something else because then I have 2 passwords to try to remember. I try to avoid using the same password for things, especially in the event that one of your accounts gets hacked, or “reviewed” by the NSA, and they try your password on other accounts you own and it works. So don’t use the same password for all your accounts children. The question now becomes, “How do I safely and securely store all of my passwords across all browsers and be able to remember them all, especially if they’re randomly generated?”
The answer: LastPass. LastPass like Xmarks(a LastPass company), has a free or paid version. The free version gets you support and synchronization across major browsers, stores all of your passwords so you only have to remember on big one, custom levels of authentication, 256 bit AES encryption of data, SSL encryption of traffic, and other various features. I was very skeptical at first, but I realized that all encryption happens locally on your machine, then sent to LastPass over SSL. Therefore, LastPass, NSA, hackers, etc will have an extremely hard time getting your data or anyone else’s for that matter because it’s all encrypted before it leaves the client.
As far as extensions go, there are only a few types of extensions I care to have in my toolbox: a script blocker, an ad blocker, and a download manager. Most browsers these days have their own extensions and some extensions are available in multiple browsers.
Probably the best script blocker IMHO is NoScript which is available for Firefox. It was the single most missed extension when I originally switched over to Chrome, but Chrome has an extension called NotScripts that does the same thing and is also available in Opera.
As far as ad blockers go, there can only be one, Adblock Plus. It is available in Firefox, Chrome, Android, and Opera. Other browsers have ad blockers very similar to Adblock Plus, but ABP is still the king.
Last but not least, I gotta have my download manager, and the best out there is DownThemAll. It’s simple and easy to use and it works. Chrome doesn’t have quite the best download manager, but it does have Downloaders, an extension that lets you specify an external download manager to use like BitComet, GetRight, Download Master, etc. Most external download managers have support for major browsers, so you shouldn’t be missing out.
Dev Tools That Don’t Suck
This category is really just a pipe dream. It’s completely hit or miss because browsers change all the time. Chrome used to consume less memory than Firefox. Mozilla fixed the memory leaks and plugin issues, so now its lighter. Some browsers come with the OS and have exclusive memory management. Some are portable on a flash drive and use a percentage of available memory. The main thing to take away from this is that you shouldn’t wait around on browsers to get their crap together. There is no reasonable excuse for a browser to consume a gig plus of RAM. It’s ridiculous. With that being said, there are people out there who take action against these unruly browsers and bring them back down to size. Firefox has Firemin that optimizes Firefox’s memory profile. Chrome has some extensions like OneTab and The Great Suspender that try to reduce memory consumption. When all else fails, you just have to get your hands dirty and look under the hood to configure you browser (Firefox|Opera|Chrome) to be more lightweight.
In a perfect world, browsers would simply be windows for use to peer out into the internet. They would be transparent and not really there. We would live our lives looking through them when we need to and ignoring them when we’re not. But that day is not today. Until then, we must accept that Chrome is Chrome and Firefox is Firefox and so on and so on until these differing opinions on how we view the web converge into a browser that works with us and not against us.
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