Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Giving up on Chrome (again)

I have a thing for Chrome, it's beautiful, simple, fast and tightly integrated with Google accounts. It is also usable on Android and so it seems simply the best choice.

However there is this thing in the Google dev team that makes it seem like an Apple kind of thing, you know, the kind of thing that "just works", which is a nice way of saying that you're too stupid to mess around with it and customizing it in whatever way you may want to.

I really don't like to be called dumb, although that's probably a sign that I am dumb ^_^. But, more importantly, it's important for me to be able to shape things in my own particular way. As Karen Holtzblatt has explained so well, we need to feel we can show ourselves, our individuality, through the products we use.

That applies to themes and stuff, but also to more functional important decisions like page zoom and whether we want all the open tabs from the previous session(s) to load at startup.

A few years ago I've abandoned Chrome when I realized that the dev team was simply not interested in giving users a chance to change the default zoom level globally (applied to both images and fonts). They simply stated that it would add to the complexity, and they wanted it to "just work" from the start. I find that approach really useful for some users (the kind that like Apple products), but I really hate that approach for myself, besides, I couldn't really comfortably use the net with the screen and OS I had at the time. So I went back to the slower Firefox.

A few months later that problem was solved but then I was already a happy firefox user and just didn't went back. However, in the last week or so, I found out that Firefox dev team had just completely changed their Sync servers without making it automatically change for users. That means that I have to go manually into each of my computers and OSs (which are a lot), and manually unlink each one from the old server and link it to the new. It just seems like someone at the Firefox team suddenly thought: «hey, let's try to kill Firefox in just a few weeks!! What's the most efficient way of thrashing all of our clients?» Well, that's certainly a great idea to do just that!! And so I just went back to Chrome and the simplicity of synchronizing everything just using your email login and password!!

I was happily using Chrome but I was finding annoying that all the tabs were loading at boot time, which is fine if you have unlimited bandwidth, which, unfortunately, is not my case. So I searched for the checkbox for something similar to Firefox's "Don't load tabs until selected" in Chrome settings, and I couldn't find it. To my disbelief I ended up finding again the same "we know better than you" Apple mentality:
We're simply not going to add a bunch of options to let people individually tweak tab-loading behavior, for the same reasons that we don't add fine-grained options to control all other Chrome behaviors [...] in order to move forward here, we need a refinement of our progressive-loading algorithm that does a better job balancing responsiveness, overall startup time, etc.

So the way is not to let people choose and customize to their hearts content, but to force them to accept the best algorithm coders can offer. I strongly sympathize with that solution. iPhone's success proves that it works wonders for many people who just want something simple and ready-to-use, something that just works out of the box, intuitively, without tinkering. It just doesn't work for me and for all those who want to tweak with no-end the gadgets they use.

The thing that really bugs me is that I cannot see any incompatibility in using both approaches at the same time. Phone lines can still be used to transmit Morse code. In the same way that we can have default options that work great for the majority of users while still maintaining the fine-grained options to control many other detailed behaviors for those who want to tweak them. In fact, that's precisely what Firefox does. What is the problem with giving users to choice to go with an intuitive and well-working default or tweak their engines? I don't get it. It seems to me that these are complementary approaches.

So I am just another disgruntled user who went happily back to trusted old Firefox. I'm quite happy with it actually : ). Thanks to the Firefox team for making a wonderful product. I know you wanted us out, you made that awful Sync thing to test our faithfulness, perhaps you had already realized that the competition out there is worse, at least on customizing.

Other (ex?)Chrome disgruntled users:
The devteam has decided to mark this and related requests "Won't Fix". The decision denies that a significant share of the user base find themselves hardware resource / bandwidth speed / cost of bandwidth (wireless) constrained in many instances. And, it denies that this same subset of users wants to keep multiple tabs open session to session.
The preferred algorithmic loading solution has not fixed the problem. It took Chrome 3 mins to become available with 10 tabs open at a friend's house. Firefox, loading only the in-focus tab, 30+ tabs open, was ready for use 5 seconds after opening. No wonder my friend gave up on Chrome.

I now use Firefox by default when I need to pop in, do a quick task and move on. I know I'll never find myself trapped by a massive set of Chrome page loads. If I'm on a network I know to be fast, I'll choose Chrome. Unfortunately, that is the case less than a quarter of the time.

The decision seems to be motivated, in part by design consideration and in part by a stubborn belief that lazy loading would be useful for only a fringe set of users.

Quoting pkasting:
"We're simply not going to add a bunch of options to let people individually tweak tab-loading behavior, for the same reasons that we don't add fine-grained options to control all other Chrome behaviors. ... In particular, we're not going to do Firefox-style lazy tab loading, because when we tested it we were extremely frustrated with it.  This isn't an issue of not thinking of it, or not listening to people suggesting it, not "taking you seriously", etc.  We simply don't agree that the benefits of this are higher than the costs.  One great thing about having multiple browsers is that other vendors can make different design tradeoffs and users can use other browsers when they find something that suits them better."

An interesting parallel discussion of lazy loading developed here:

in an issue thread entitled "Flash videos etc. on background tabs are started automatically after session restore".

Lazy loading became the dominant requested solution in the issue thread, and pkasting closed the thread to external comment.

Extensions, not options, are the preferred dev solution, given belief that restoring all tabs in a resource constraint environment represents a fringe use case. Until devteam beliefs on the matter change, that's what we're left with.!topic/chrome/Paje9Zit8AE

In fact, Google is becoming more and more difficult to like and love. The things I would like to have are precisely more control but the development of Google products (including the search engine) show more and more automation. It makes me wonder if someday the internet will feel like watching the telly: not a way to express your intelligence, but to blindly follow the intelligence of others.

No comments: