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Thursday, April 28, 2011

How To Get Both Firefox and Chrome's Best Features in Your Browser

Like the age-old battle of cake versus pie, the great browser debate rages on. Fans of Chrome champion speed, while the Firefox faithful tout its extensibility — and even Internet Explorer fans have improvements of their own to be happy about these days.

But thanks to the magic of add-ons, extensions and browser tweaks, you don't have to settle for just one. In fact, it's possible to get some of Chrome and Firefox 4's best features, and bring them to your browser of choice — even if that browser is Internet Explorer. Here's how.

Turn the AwesomeBar into an Omnibar — with Instant (almost)!

We hinted at this in our last set of Firefox 4 tweak tips, but its worth mentioning again. For all the space Mozilla has saved in cleaning up their browser's user interface, it baffles us as to why a dedicated search bar is still included — especially when Firefox 4's AwesomeBar works just as nicely on its own. All it takes is a right-click on the toolbar — followed by a trip to the Customize menu option — to drag away the search bar into oblivion.

Even more useful, however, is infusing the AwesomeBar with most of Chrome's Instant search goodness. This actually takes two steps, the first of which is installing Mozilla Labs' own Instant Preview add-on. Now, any highlighted result in Firefox 4's AwesomeBar drop-down dialog will load instantly, similar to Google Chrome. However, as anyone familiar with Firefox knows, this drop-down dialog will only show recently accessed or historical sites — and not actual search results from Google. Instead, you'll need to set up a bookmark shortcut to invoke a search from the AwesomeBar, accomplished by right-clicking on any Google search box and selecting "Add a Keyword for this Search."

The result, of course, isn't perfect — you'll have to highlight your search term in the drop-down dialog first for it to actually load "instantly — but it's pretty damn close.

Feed Chrome some Tab Candy

There's no denying that Firefox 4's Tab Panorama feature is particularly awesome. Much like a virtual desktop, you can separate tabs into their own groups, allowing you to resize and organize those groups in a virtual space. It's sure to be a boon for obsessive organizational types — or those with an excess of tabs — but it's a feature sorely absent from Chrome.

Worry not, however: a handy extension called Tab Sugar is aiming to bring Tab Panorama to Chrome users too. Of course, this is still alpha code, so not everything works quite as you'd expect. Website previews in particular are absent, and there were a few graphical hiccups when moving tab groups around. Still, it's better that nothing, and should placate Chrome faithful who aren't quite ready to switch.

Invite IE9 to the WebM Party

After Google made the bold decision to axe support for the h.264 video codec in Chrome last year — the format in which much of the web's video is encoded — there was some uncertainty as to how competing browsers would react. The goal, after all, was to replace the royalty-encumbered h.264 codec with thefreely-licensed WebM standard. Luckily, both Firefox 4 and Safari now officially support the standard, leaving one notable exception — Internet Explorer 9.

For now, that's not a huge deal, as very little online content is primarily encoded using the codec. However, if you're looking to enjoy the latest and greatest that the HTML5-capable web has to offer, Google now offers an experimental WebM plug-in for IE9 users as well. You can even try YouTube's experimental HTML5 player to see the codec in action.

Teach Chrome to keep Tabs in sync

Browser sync is undeniably one of Chrome's best features, but there's one glaring omission — tabs. In this regard, Firefox 4's Sync feature clearly succeeds, but that doesn't mean all is lost for you Google faithful. All it takes is a small extension to get your pages synced between machines.

In fact, you have a few options. FreshStart relies upon Chrome's built-in browser sync to work its tab-based magic. The extension sits beside the Omnibar, and allows you to save or restore sessions when moving between machines. Sadly, the process isn't as automatic as the rest of Chrome's syncing features, but at least it works as advertised — assuming you remember to save your browser's state before moving to another machine. And of course, there's also our old favourite Xmarks, which not only syncs between multiple Chrome installs, but other browsers as well.

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