Firefox Quantum vs. Google Chrome

Does one edge out the other?

The two most popular desktop browsers, Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, have been competing for years. But, with the release of Mozilla's Quantum browser engine, has Mozilla finally dethroned Chrome?

This comparison was performed between Chrome version 69 and Firefox version 62 on macOS 10.14 Mojave and Windows 10 version 1809, the most up-to-date releases at the time of writing.

Firefox vs Chrome

Overall Findings

Chrome
  • Faster page loads

  • Renders pages more accurately.

  • Supports more web standards and HTML/Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) elements.

  • Actively tracks users.

  • Largest extension library of all browsers.

  • Chrome Web Store is a popular target for malicious hackers.

  • Few customization options.

  • Support for video streaming through Chromecast.

  • Set-and-forget sync.

Firefox Quantum
  • Fewer developers test their apps and sites in Firefox.

  • Supports fewer web standards and HTML/CSS features, but Mozilla is actively involved in the creation of these standards.

  • Does not track users.

  • Tools to block user tracking are built in.

  • Smaller extension library but more customization extensions available.

  • Highly customizable user interface (UI).

  • Take screen captures of full pages.

Speed and Performance: Chrome Wins the Race

Chrome
  • Benchmarks are clearly faster.

  • Pages load quickly and smoothly.

  • You can begin scrolling before content has fully been loaded.

Firefox Quantum
  • Slower benchmark performance.

  • Slower subjective user experience.

  • Interacting with a page before it has fully been loaded can crash the page, requiring a reload.

Synthetic benchmarks have long been used to evaluate how browsers stack up against one another. These benchmarks are great because they're objective and clear, but they're far from a perfect representation of a browser's capability.

Benchmarks can only test elements like loading time, rendering performance, and standards support. They can't tell you how it "feels" to use the browser. A browser's ability to load JavaScript faster, for example, doesn't mean that that browser is necessarily better.

In evaluating a variety of benchmarks, Chrome is the clear victor, as shown in the above image. Sometimes, it was by only a few percentage points. Other times, such as with MotionMark, the results were outrageously different.

This finding also backs up the lived experience of Firefox users. Loading pages quickly has never been one of its strengths. Firefox Quantum is far superior to old Firefox, but it doesn't quite measure up to Chrome, yet.

Rendering and Accuracy: Chrome Is More Accurate

Chrome
  • Renders pages more accurately.

  • Most developers test their websites in Chrome, providing the best user experience.

  • Fewer rendering bugs and errors.

Firefox Quantum
  • Pages can be rendered incorrectly, with misplaced or nonfunctional elements.

  • You can't fix rendering bugs.

  • Fewer developers test websites in Firefox.

Load times are important but perhaps not as important as rendering web pages accurately, meaning that pages look like they're supposed to when you visit them.

For modern browsers, rendering accuracy is effectively a nonissue. Regardless of the browser you choose, websites appear consistent. But in edge cases, differences can sometimes sneak through the cracks.

In those cases, Firefox sometimes renders a webpage inaccurately. It's rarely a usability-busting error, but it can break the website. Opening the page in Chrome is typically the solution to this bug. Such a bug will likely affect only one or two web pages a month, but it's still a problem: You shouldn't need to try multiple browsers to ensure that a website loads properly.

Support for Modern Standards: Chrome Supports More

Chrome
  • Supports the most web standards.

  • Supports more HTML and CSS elements.

Firefox Quantum
  • Supports fewer web standards and HTML and CSS features.

  • Mozilla does valuable advocacy work to create web standards.

The World Wide Web exists because of web standards: technologies the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has set out to define how the web should be coded and interpreted. These standards allow for interoperability and cross-compatibility among the world's servers and web browsers. Without a clear standards body like W3C, the web couldn't work properly.

Because web standards are so important to the proper functioning of the internet, browsers must support as many of the standards as is reasonably possible. The more quickly a browser adopts new standards, the more quickly those standards can be implemented by developers and enjoyed by users.

Firefox supports 488 web standards out of the 555 standards tested by HTML5Test.com; Chrome supports 528 standards. It's an objective win for Chrome, but it doesn't translate into much of a practical difference.

Privacy and Security: Firefox Overwhelms Chrome

Chrome
  • Aggressive user tracking.

  • Tracking scope is unclear and expanding.

Firefox Quantum
  • Does not track users.

  • Built-in support for Do Not Track.

  • Built-in tools block online tracking tools.

Browser history can be shockingly revealing, but Google has the power to capture more than just your history. Chrome can see which links you selected and which you didn't, carefully analyzing the effectiveness of various web elements and advertisements.

Firefox has no such collection mechanisms: Your Firefox browsing history is private. Mozilla, the company behind Firefox, is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to protect the internet and the people who use it. It doesn't make money from user information. It neither wants nor needs it.

It's not just about browsing history, though. It's also about built-in tools to keep you safe and your data secure. Firefox includes active tracking protection built into and automatically activated in the browser. Firefox is always on the lookout for software that can track your internet use and actively subverts such tools, which is well beyond what the Do Not Track list does. Chrome doesn't offer any such protection.

Extensions and Customization: It's a Tie

Chrome
  • Greatest number of available extensions.

  • Fewer customization extensions available.

  • Chrome Web Store is a target for scammers and hackers because of its size.

Firefox Quantum
  • Smaller library of extensions.

  • More customization extensions available.

  • Lower usage rate provides some security through obscurity.

  • Extensions must be rewritten to work with Quantum.

Both Firefox and Chrome have large extension libraries. These browser-based software packages extend the browser's functionality and make up a major part of the modern browser infrastructure. Extensions include tools like ad blockers, software to download video, password managers, virtual private networks, and more.

Both browsers have access to broad libraries of extensions built by users and developers and available at no cost. There may be quantitative differences between Chrome extensions and Firefox extensions, but the qualitative difference is minimal.

Chrome has a slight edge here because of its usage rate. It's easily the most popular desktop browser on the market. As a result, extension developers would be smart to concentrate their development resources on Chrome, meaning that extensions sometimes exist in Chrome that are unavailable in Firefox.

However, Firefox scores by including incredibly deep options for customization. Firefox Color, for example, provides a graphical UI (GUI) to change your browser's color so that users can effortlessly build their own themes. There's more beyond Firefox Colors, too: Power users can write CSS to customize how the browser itself appears. If you have the time and inclination, you can make Firefox look however you like.

In the end, these browsers are basically tied. Chrome has a slight edge in users who want to plug and play, while Firefox has perks for people who love turning knobs and fiddling with settings.

User Interface and Ease of Use: Chrome for the Win

Chrome
  • Well-designed and accessible GUI.

  • Few customization options beyond approved themes.

  • GUI doesn't match the host operating system's design language.

  • Fluid drag-and-drop reorganization tools.

Firefox Quantum
  • Default GUI is accessible and navigable.

  • Careless customization can quickly muddle the interface.

  • Power users can gain total control over the GUI.

  • GUI provides a better match for the host operating system's design language.

A browser can't do much good if it's difficult to use. The GUI—the layout of the browser—determines how easy the browser is to use. Small changes can make big differences.

Chrome and Firefox follow the same broad layout. Where Chrome manages to be easier to use, however, Firefox offers significantly more options for customization, complicating the GUI. Menus can be confusingly organized in Firefox, while Chrome tends to get right to the point.

Google's Material Design language is also apparent in Chrome, and it shines. It's a legible, clear method of layout. Even with the Photon Design System, Firefox doesn't have the same consistency.

It's also easier to manipulate the Chrome GUI. You can drag buttons and extension icons around Chrome toolbars without having to enter a customization mode, as you do with Firefox.

Additional Features: Tie

Chrome
  • Easy to create and switch between user accounts.

  • Chromecast support for streaming video.

  • Sync between devices is robust and set-and-forget.

Firefox Quantum
  • Customizable reader mode.

  • Built-in tracking protection enabled by default.

  • Pocket provides suggestion posts and save-for-later features.

  • Screenshot tools can capture full pages.

Browsers aren't created equally: They don't always ship with the same or even comparable features as their competition.

Firefox Quantum

Firefox includes excellent tracking protection. You'll also find a reader mode that dumps all the ads and layout elements on a page, presenting you with only the clean text, attractively rendered. A similar experience in Chrome requires an extension.

Firefox also ships with Pocket integration so that you can save articles for later. Users of Pocket can quickly save articles, but these users aren't the only ones who benefit. Firefox can also recommend popular posts in the New Tab page. You can can disable this feature, but it's a great resource for keeping up with the news of the day. The mobile version of Firefox also has a web page night mode feature that changes white backgrounds and black text of the web into night-friendly colors.

Firefox on the desktop includes built-in support for web screenshots. You can capture the full scrollable length of a web page with the included tools—something that requires an extension in Chrome.

Google Chrome

Chrome provides some unique features of its own. Support for multiple users is the biggest one. User profiles in Chrome separate browsing history, extensions, appearance, and more into distinct silos, making it easier to use the browser on shared computers. It also enables users to sort their browsing habits into buckets and improve their online experience.

Firefox does offer something similar with Containers, which separate browsing data. Multiuser support does technically exist in Firefox, but it's hard to find and harder to use (not to mention less useful).

Cross-browser syncing of data is available on both platforms, but the implementation in Chrome is superior. Sign in with your Google account, and your browser settings, history, cookies, and extensions are shared with every other Chrome instance using your credentials. Firefox can sync data between browsers, as well, but the sync isn't as robust or simple.

We can't forget about Chromecast, either. Chrome users can "cast" a web page to their Chromecast device, seamlessly transferring a video from their computer or laptop to their television. Firefox includes nothing even approaching this functionality.

In the aggregate, the features Firefox offers make it a better fit for reading online. The features in Chrome are better for multiuser and multidevice support.

The Verdict: Except in Security, Chrome Is the Winner

If you're concerned about privacy, Firefox is the superior pick. For most people, however, Chrome still handily surpasses Firefox in nearly every measurable category.