Google Chrome – The Aid Worker’s New Best Friend

by Jon Thompson on December 23, 2009

I have been using Mozilla‘s Firefox as my main browser for many years. It used to be quite fast but recent updates have killed its performance. The main reason I stuck with it is that it supported the Adblock Plus extension that conveniently stripped out all ads and saved me both bandwidth and money. At $8/MB even the smallest ads can drain your donor cash.

For some time Google’s Chrome has been a viable option for Windows users but it was only recently that they opened an extension page and released a version for Mac. If you want to use extensions you will (for some silly reason) need to install the Beta version and extensions do not yet work with the Mac version. Once the extensions are available my conversion will be complete for one simple reason: AdThwart.

Currently, the second most popular extension currently available is AdThwart which is the Chrome equivalent of Adblock Plus. While other extensions like IE Tab, Things To Do and Aviary Screen Capture are useful, the only really critical extension for me is AdThwart. (Kudos to Google for allowing an extension that will cut into their revenue stream.)

Chrome is already lightening fast to load and render, you can enter search queries in the address bar, importing you bookmarks from Firefox is one click during install and it renders pages beautifully. With AdThwart and the other extensions now available Chrome has just eclipsed Firefox as my browser of choice.

In the field tools that are lighter, faster and more reliable enable us to save more lives. I don’t hand out a lot of praise to tech groups/companies for their work but in this case I am happy to say that Chrome has just joined my shortlist of technologies that help us to do just that. Nice work, Google.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Kelly December 24, 2009 at 1:40 am

I don’t fully understand your logic. You say you are annoyed by browser speed, however in almost all field sites internet connections are still quite slow compared to the rest of the developed world (I write this post from a VSAT connection..). The speed of a bloated browser can be annoying during start up, or on an older computer, but once loaded Chrome, Firefox, IE, or any other browser is only going to run as fast as it’s limited connection speed allows.

I agree fully that adblocking software saves valuable MB, which is why I still endorse Firefox. Add ons like Stylish, Remove it Permanently (RIP), and Adblock Plus allow me to strip my internet browsing experience down to it’s bare minimum. RIP enables me to edit commonly used pages not just for ads, but for any content, making it load faster, while Stylish allows me to invert colors of commonly used websites (turning white to black, for example, saving on battery life of laptops).

Considering Google and Chrome make money from directly tracking your behaviors and actions, I don’t know if I would ever resort to Chrome as a primary browser in every situation. In addition, Chrome and other Google products install automatic update applications that run in the background, sending small packets of data and eating up precious resources on older machines. While Chrome is always faster on the load, I don’t know if it substantially increases the utility to aid workers.

Jon Thompson December 24, 2009 at 11:28 pm

Kelly-

Thanks for the insightful comment. I have contacted a colleague who specializes in optimization for low bandwidth/high latency networks and I am hoping he stops by to give some feedback on some of these issues.

First off, I think to fairly assess these browsers we’d have to run them side by side in a low bandwidth environment. Perhaps you are doing that now. What is your experience?

One of the reasons I like Chrome is that it seems to render most sites smoothly whereas I have had less success with the latest Firefox installs and have experienced a number of crashes. I am not sure of the exact causes for each crash but over the past few months I have had more success with Chrome.

As for the bandwidth being the main culprit I do agree but wonder what the load demands for each browser really are. Also, what is the load of Chrome vs the load of Firefox on the system. Older machines of the kind you typically find in remote areas need every bit of CPU processing power they have to run more intense apps. Also, you might try running SunSpider (http://bit.ly/5SZ6p7) and V8 (http://bit.ly/7IMK2g) tests side by side on each browser and see what you come up with. This article has details and test results: http://bit.ly/6a5c8L

I have never used Stylish or RIP but while they look interesting Adblock Plus seems like the only ‘no brainer’ extension. AdThwart has the same sort of ‘fire and forget’ simplicity and for that reason I like it. It is much more likely that people in the field, who are less technically inclined, will take advantage of such an app if it easy to use.

Your last remark is the real question here. How much is Chrome part of Google’s data gathering scheme? Is it automatically downloading and installing applications that run in the background? Does it send usage statistics back out on a regular basis and if so how heavy is that data?

Unfortunately, these are all questions I am not qualified to answer but hopefully I can entice more people like yourself, who have valuable information to contribute, to leave comments regarding this issue.

Thanks again and best regards,

Jon

Jeff R Allen January 1, 2010 at 8:14 am

Jon’s talking about me, and since he’s complemented me as an expert, I should try to live up to it. (I’m not, and I won’t, but what the heck, let’s try…)

There’s a bunch of factors that feed into this discussion. Some are really technical and geeky, which are the ones you guys have not touched on yet. One thing to understand about Chrome is that is uses a fundamentally expensive (in terms of memory and CPU) system to make the browser more secure against drive-by hacking attempts which are now common on the net. On modern computers, you won’t even notice it, because they have so much memory and CPU to spare. But on an old, small machine, it would be a bad trade-off — i.e. you’d see significantly worse performance with Chrome.

Modern web apps use more and more javascript to move processing from the server side to the client side of the link. As a crude but effective rule, more client-side processing usually means less network bytes with respect to the amount of user experience delivered. This is the difference between old Yahoo e-mail (super-heavy for VSAT) and Gmail (lighter-weight). The best, of course, is getting your mail by POP3, which moves 100% of the UI to the client, and moves ONLY the email over the VSAT.

Anyway, Chrome was engineered from the ground up to make client-side Javascript fast, and that’s one reason it felt so much faster than Firefox when it first came out. Firefox is probably going to catch up.

In terms of minimizing the number of bytes that cross an internet connection, I’d guess there’s no advantage between the two, now that Chrome has roughly the same extensions available to it.

Finally, as for trusting Chrome, I think it’s a safe bet. Here’s why. Google is an advertising company, not a technology company. (Their CEO has said this publicly before.) They deploy new kinds of technology because they perceive that more people doing more things online = bigger advertising market. They need people to trust them or else they can’t grow the market like they want. Their behavior so far shows that they strive to earn trust and deserve the trust we’ve given them so far. For example, almost all of the source code to Chrome is available for public inspection. If the commercial version of Chrome ever lost people’s confidence, people have the right to use the source code of Chrome to create a competitor that they DO trust. Google has chosen to take irreversible steps that insure Chrome will always have a life separate of Google, as a way of building trust.

-jeff

Jon Thompson January 4, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Jeff-

Thanks for the comments.

I certainly hope Firefox catches up as we all stand to gain if that happens. I am hopeful that in the not too distant future we will see a lean and fast version of FF released as a competitor to Chrome. However, given FF’s funding sources I am not sure they will be able to maintain solid offerings for much longer.

Considering that, while in the field, most of our time is spent in a browser viewing cached pages, I would be interested to how much the performance of older machines suffer. If any of you know of someone in the field using Chrome I’d love to hear more about their experiences.

Thanks for the dialogue. I will try to get more info from field folks and write another post re Chrome in the field.

Cheers,

Jon

opit January 20, 2010 at 6:45 am

Optimizing Firefox may mean more than not installing too many tools : where so many combinations are available, some will clash. Even with a decent connection – for the country, anyway – I still find Firefox has a tendency to overload the CPU and ‘hang’ while it tries to resolve. Keeping a number of tabs open makes this worse. Diigo’s ‘Read Later’ option can help keep that under control.
But even the Chrome Beta is better on my Ubuntu OS : which I chose because I didn’t want to be stuck with a resource hog on my older unit. For years I have kept Opera available because it consistently keeps closest to web standards and goes for speed. Free since Google bought it a few years back, it is a favourite of many. Unhappily for me, I still find it difficult to regulate when it comes to allowing script…something others laud it for.

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