Maintaining Neutrality in the Browser Wars

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Q: Which web browser should I use? Some people tell me I absolutely must use Firefox. Others demand that I install Chrome. Other browsers have their own contrarian adherents. Who is right?

A: All browsers will take you where you want to go. Period. Arguments are made about the relative security or speed of one browser versus another but most them seem religious, not empirical. Most tech types wouldn't be caught dead using anything other than Chrome or Firefox.

But the whole debate resembles the pissing match between Ford and Chevy lovers. All the stuff about horsepower this and torque that is just so much backfill for opinions formed long ago in some forgotten crucible.

It's not that there aren't meaningful differences between the browsers at certain times in their respective development cycles, but it doesn't pay to be dogmatic about which browser you use.

For me, what ends up mattering are silly design quirks that I like or don't like, not anything "under the hood." At first, I really hated the way that Chrome popped up new tabs right next to the page I was browsing as opposed to sticking them at the far right of my tab lineup.

Ultimately, a little utility built into Chrome converted me. For years, I had used Firefox exclusively, but when I started to spend more time designing web pages, I began to find Chrome's "Inspect Element" feature irresistible. It shows you exactly which styles are applied to a particular piece of text or photo and from whence they came.

But that's not really the point. More important is the general principle: remain agnostic about browsers. Maybe even switch occasionally so you don't become too attached to bits of user interface that are likely to change and not worth building into your outboard brain.

So use Chrome or Firefox. You'll have a fine browsing experience. But don't get too attached.

For those of you who have built up an impressive collection of bookmarks in one browser or another, transferring these settings is simple enough. In either Firefox or Chrome, you can export your list from the Bookmarks Manager and save it as an HTML file that can then be imported by a new browser.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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