Why Firefox Doesn't Take Google Chrome Features
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Mozilla is set to release its new Firefox 3.5 browser as early as next week after a year of development.
The new release will include a number of new features, but don't expect to see many features that were inspired by the new arrival of Google on the Web browser scene with its Chrome browser.
Google introduced Chrome in September 2008 and included numerous new browser features like closer search engine access from the address bar and automatic updates. Firefox 3.5, which is currently at its third release candidate stage does not include those features and isn't likely to anytime soon, either.
The difference between the two browsers highlights the different views that Mozilla and Google have on what users want from their browsers.
Awesome Bar versus Omnibox
Firefox 3.5 improves on the "Awesome Bar" address bar design that Mozilla rolled out with Firefox 3.
By default, it does not enable full search engine queries -- instead, Firefox (as well as Microsoft Internet Explorer) offers a separate search box in the browser. But, as it turns out, some form of search is accessible through the Awesome Bar.
"What a lot of people don't know is that if you type something into the location/Awesome Bar and no [location] matches come up, if you hit Enter, we run a Google search for that," Mike Beltzner, Mozilla's Director of Firefox, told InternetNews.com. "The reason why it is architected that way is we don't think that people expect that when they type something into their location bar that those words are being sent to a search engine."
Google integrates search into its the address bar, creating a location bar design it calls the Omnibox.
While the Omnibox may behave like the familiar Google.com search box, the features have inspired some worries over privacy, with concerns about Google logging entries from users -- even if they never actually hit the Enter key to send a search to Google -- have been around since Chrome's first release.
One of those features is the Google Suggest feature that helps users with their search query in Chrome. Google blogged at the time of Chrome's release that logged data like IP addresses are captured by Google for only 2 percent of requests.
Mozilla's Beltzner, however, still has concerns.
"What you're seeing with our competitors is they are sending [address bar entries] off to their search engine and we think that is violating a privacy boundary that some people might not expect," Beltzner said. "We just want to make sure that it's clear. So we keep search on the Internet where you are sending things out, in the box on the right and local search in the smart location bar."
Google spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Privacy and updates
Another key change from the status quo in Google Chrome is that it does not require users to manually update the browsers themselves.
When a user installs Chrome, they also install the GoogleUpdate.exe application that runs in the background of a user's system to keep Chrome up to date. It's a feature that enables Chrome users to be updated faster than users of other browsers, according to a recent study in which Google was involved.
The study found that that after 21 days of a Google Chrome release, 97 percent of users were updated to the latest version. Mozilla Firefox had 85 percent of users updated within 21 days.
But Mozilla said it prefers a different approach to rolling out updates.
"Chrome takes the philosophy that software should be like the Web and change and become better over time," Beltzner said. "I think what they'll find it is that it pens them in from making radical changes in their user interface. Unless those changes are announced, unless users have some warning that a change will happen, the general response you'll see is shock and fear."
Beltzner added that in Mozilla's view, users want to feel as though they have more control over their own software. With Firefox, users receive an update notification that they must click on in order to install a new version of the browser.
"We want to make security and stability updates painless to install for the user and we keep updating our mechanism to that end," Beltzner said.
Beltzner added that Firefox's developers want to inform users that Mozilla has made an update not because they want to pat themselves on the back, but because it feels wrong to change software on a user's computer without telling them why.
"This machine is a user's machine, and my right to put software on it, I think, stops at the point where they decide to take the software from me," Beltzner said. "I want to ship them a security update but I want them to understand why I've done it -- that's the philosophical difference."