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Switching from Chrome to Firefox? Here Are Some Tips.

I recently switched from Google Chrome to Mozilla Firefox as my main desktop browser. Here’s what I did to improve upon Firefox’ sometimes not ideal defaults.

There are a couple of reasons why I considered the switch from Chrome to Firefox: A growing uneasy feeling about Google’s approach to user privacy, Manifest v3, Googles’s WebDRM plans, their rejection of JPEG XL and the omnipresence of Chromium-based browsers nowadays – Chrome, Edge, Brave, Vivaldi, Opera and some others are basically the same programs in different clothes.

Having used Firefox on Android for some time now, I knew Firefox Desktop is in a really good state and even faster than Chrome in some benchmarks. I decided to take that leap and switch to Firefox on my desktop devices. So far it’s been… good. The browser indeed feels a bit snappier than Chrome. It is light years ahead of the Firefox I stopped using 15 years ago.

There are some things that I miss in Firefox or that I find that Chrome does better. For future me and other people considering the switch, here are the problems I had and solutions or workarounds that I found.

Problem 1: Browser Sync and Profile Switching

I have used Chrome with a personal and a work profile, both of them tied to different Google accounts. Once logged in, Chrome syncs passwords, bookmarks, extensions etc. automatically across different PCs and my phone (except extensions). Both features, syncing and switching profiles, work reliably in Chrome.

Firefox has cross device syncing, too. It’s not that comfortable, but you only have to set it up on each device once. You can even self-host the sync-server, but as far as I know it is difficult to set up, so I didn’t try that.

Screenshot: Firefox’ default profile manager

Firefox’ default profile manager is functional, but tbh quite inelegant. Maybe that is why they hid it behind a startup parameter.

Firefox’ built-in profile switcher is far worse than Chrome’s. To open it, you need to start Firefox with the -p parameter. Here’s how to add it to the taskbar in Windows:

Right-click on your Firefox Icon in the taskbar (or any other shortcut to Firefox in your system). → Right click on “Firefox”. → Choose “Properties” → In the “Target” field, add -p at the end (after the quotation marks).

File properties of the link to Firefox in Windows 10’s taskbar. The -p parameter is added after the path to the EXE in the target field.

The link’s file properties dialog. It’s in German, but you get the drill: Append -p in the “target” field.

For switching to another account while the browser is running, I found the “Profile Switcher for Firefox” extension that mimics the Profile switcher in Chrome’s menu bar. I highly recommend it!

Things to know:

  • You need to install an additional external helper application after activating the extension.
  • On Windows, you can install the helper app even on a PC without admin rights. It may trigger a virus alert, because it is unsigned. I checked the helper app against Virustotal, installed it and had no problems.
  • The extension initially did not work correctly when using virtual desktops on Windows 10. To fix this, open Profile Switcher → Manage profiles → ⚙ (Gear Icon) → Activate “Window Focus workaround”
  • Unfortunately, Chrome’s Ctrl + Shift ⇑ + M shortcut for fast switching profiles does not work, as this is Firefox’ global shortcut for mobile view.

Apart from the last aspect, everything went smoothly. The Profile Switcher is a drastic QoL improvement if you need to handle different browser contexts.

Update: As commenters and folks on Hacker News have pointed out, there’s another solution for decoupling contexts (e.g. work vs. private) and logging into different accounts of one service at the same time: the Multi-Account Containers extension. It does not meet my specific needs–different bookmarks, settings and extensions–but it may be an excellent solution for many users out there.

Problem 2: Font Rendering

Font rendering on Firefox right after install seemed “off” to me, compared to Chrome on my main system (Windows 10, 32″ 2560×1440 VA screen, 100% font scaling, ClearType enabled). Fonts are smaller on Firefox than on Chrome and single letters are narrower, so legibility is noticeably worse.

Some Screenshots: This is Vanilla Firefox.

This is Chrome.

This is Firefox with my optimized font rendering values (Don’t worry, we’ll get to that).

I scoured through the Internet and found that I was not the only person who did not like the default font rendering. To be entirely honest, I found it baffling how much worse Firefox’ defaults are in this quite important regard.

So I tried to improve on the defaults, I looked for tweaks online, and after many comparisons settled on the following:

Enter about:config in your address bar, confirm that you know what you’re doing. Search for the variables, double-click on them and change them to my values:

gfx.font_rendering.cleartype_params.force_gdi_classic_for_families = "" (delete the whole string)
gfx.font_rendering.cleartype_params.enhanced_contrast = "100"
gfx.font_rendering.cleartype_params.pixel_structure = "5"
gfx.font_rendering.cleartype_params.rendering_mode = "5"
gfx.font_rendering.directwrite.bold_simulation = "2"
browser.display.auto_quality_min_font_size = "1"
gfx.font_rendering.cleartype_params.gamma = "2"

Note that the tweaks are my personal preferences on my specific PC. They are absolutely not universally applicable, may cause problems on some systems, are very dependent on your Monitor, OS, its font smoothing settings and even be subjectively worse. Also, they do not replicate Chrome’s font rendering perfectly. Text seems a bit bolder, which I actually like. Bright text on dark background still looks a bit worse, though. Feel free to comment if you know better tweaks values.

Problem 3: Tabs

Browsing habits are different. I am not a tab hoarder, I almost never have more than 15 of them open at the same time. I don’t need excessive tab management options, tab grouping or vertical tab bars – just my 3 pinned ones (Mail, Calendar, Chat) and a good glimpse over the other open tabs.

A bar with some open tabs in Vanilla Firefox.

This is how a couple of open tabs look in default Firefox. WTF, Mozilla? 🫠

What boggled my mind was the fact that inactive tabs in Firefox have no separators between them. Tabs are just a long line of truncated text strings and some icons. Even weirder is the fact that Firefox had clear separation between inactive tabs in earlier version but got rid of it in 2021. Even worse, I could not find any themes, extensions, settings or about:config tweaks that made the tab bar “sane” in sort of a three click solution.

The new tab style is not my cup of tea and I can’t imagine that most people prefer it over Chrome (or earlier Firefox versions).

Truly a life saver was this Firefox UI Fix script. It re-activates Firefox’ former UI styles, Proton or Photon, which are both much better in terms of UI legibility.

Firefox’ tab bar in Photon style.

Firefox’ tab bar in Photon style. Mozilla should seriously consider making this the default. 😏

I prefer the older Photon style but you should test both of them. You can install the script via Terminal/Powershell (and update it from time to time in the same way), it’s pretty straightforward. Here’s how to install.

Problem 4: Download Management

I like Chrome’s download bar at the bottom of the screen, as I need to download and handle many files for work. The fact that it is always visible, in every tab, until you close it, and that it fully integrates the OS’ Drag & Drop capabilities is important to me.

Firefox on the other hand has this little download icon next to the address bar and a separate download manager window (Ctrl + J) but it’s not that useful for my use case and I wish there would be something similar to Chrome’s download bar, but there does not seem to be. (Some extensions integrate a download status bar at the bottom, but you can’t drag & drop finished downloads anywhere.)

I probably have to accept some slower workflows here. On a side note, Chrome’s development team seems to consider a similar approach to how downloads work as in Firefox. I don’t think they should, but that’s just me.

Problem 5: Search Icons and Pocket

Screenshot of Firefox search suggestions with search engine icons at the bottom

Screenshot of Firefox search suggestions. The search engine icons at the bottom infuriate me.

The search engine and whatnot icons on the bottom of URL/search suggestions annoy me. I understand that Mozilla probably makes money with them, but they are are a waste of space and time when I try to use the key to scroll through search results. It first cycles through these things before you reach the last item in the list.

Screenshot of Firefox’ Search shortcut settings. The checkboxes on the left are highlighted.

This is how you can disable them.

You can get rid of them by going to Settings → Search → Search Shortcuts. Deactivate all the checkmarks at the most left column. I probably would not have find this solution if Lemmings had not helped me.

I don’t want my browser to advertise services that I don’t (regularly) use, e.g. Pocket. I disabled Pocket completely by going to about:config and changing this parameter:

extensions.pocket.enabled = "false"

In Settings → Homepage, I also deactivated “Sponsored shortcuts”and “Pages saved to pocket”.

Mission accomplished

These were the most important things that got in my way after I switched from Chrome to Firefox. I hope you found my tips helpful. Apart from that, Firefox is a “smooth sailing” experience for me. There are many things that I actually like better about Firefox. The integrated Reader Mode (Press F9 to get a probably more legible version of the article you’re on) is great and the massive capabilities to modify its UI are, too. I also applied stricter privacy settings, Firefox allows you to do that. I recommend everyone to try Firefox again, it’s good!

Firefox Photo by Michael Payne on Unsplash.