Living on Firefox Pt. 2: Getting in Sync

So last Friday I decided to see what life on the web would be like if I ditched Chrome as my daily browser to go with Firefox. See here.

Before I set out to really test what Firefox could do I needed to look into Firefox’s  sync capabilities.  The best part about Chrome is the seamlessness of syncing across desktop and mobile. I have two laptops — a System76 Lemur Ultra (my work machine) and a Dell Inspiron 11z (my go to  portable). I’d sync up the laptops and then sync my two mobile devices, a Nexus 7 and a Samsung Captivate — a first gen Galaxy phone running CyanogenMod 9. For a browser to work for me, and to possibly replace Chrome, it must have a good syncing service.

A tip: Set your home page to about:home. It’s a nice way to get to settings, downloads, sync set up and more.

I’ve known about Firefox sync and had even set up the account, but I’d never synced my browsers. My assumption was that sync for Firefox would sync bookmarks and history across my devices, but not give me the app and extension experience Chrome would.

I started my sync mission with the System 76 laptop. I’d used Firefox, but it had no more than a couple bookmarks and some browser history. I added a handful of extensions I like to use in Chrome: Evernote web clipper, Do Not Track Plus, Pocket,  a screen shot extension and Diigo’s Quick Note. These were all very easy to find and install. (I’ll write more about extensions and use in my next post) I had used Firefox a bit and had  a few pages book marked and a decent web history. I had plenty in place to see how sync worked.

I then set up sync on the device. To do this, you can access sync from the preferences menu, from which you are asked to create an account. First time you do it, you’ll be asked if you have an account or not. To set up a new account all you need is an email and password. Once you set up your account it will sync your laptop’s info to Mozilla’s servers.

A one-time sync code is used to pair computers and mobile devices in Firefox.

Next, I popped open the Dell, opened sync (under tools in the menu) and chose sync to another device. Once that is selected, a pop-up window appears with a 12-character key that you’re asked to enter into the device you want to sync.

Enter the key and a little progress bar appears. In what was maybe a minute, my Dell install of Firefox grabbed the Sytem76′s history and a quick check of the add ons showed that had also installed the extensions as well. A quick reset of Firefox and I had a fully synced browser. It even placed the extension icons and other adjustments I’d made to the toolbar in the same place.

Firefox syncing in progress

While not as simple as Chrome’s sign-in-and-you’re-good-to-go sync, Firefox’s method was pretty simple and straightforward. I like the progress bar, too. I’ve had Chrome syncs die, fail or start slow. There’s never any telling how long it takes or when or if it’s done. Firefox sync worked great.

On to my Android devices. I had played with Firefox a few times — even had Aurora on my phone for a bit — but Firefox on Android really sucked at the time. It was unusable on my phone, crashing every other use and even crashing my phone. I knew Firefox has been working hard on Android and had recently announced a revamped Android browser. I went with beta builds on both the phone and the Nexus. This is a must currently with the nexus as stable doesn’t support the tablet.

Syncing both to the laptop required the same 12-character code entry and each was successful. A little desktop icon appeared in the new tab window allowing me to grab last opened tabs and history from either laptop. Here, the experience was good but not necessarily butter smooth. Syncing of the desktop tabs wasn’t instantaneous. Even after 15 minutes, my open tabs on the Dell weren’t current on my Nexus 7. Through settings, you can force the mobile browser to synchronize, and that seemed to the trick. More reliable was the history which was up to date on all devices. If I needed a page or tab I had visited anywhere, I could get it in history.

The synced tabs view on Firefox Beta for the Nexus 7

The only other issue I had was that I could not find a way to view the tabs I had open on my Nexus on one of the laptops. Again, I could easily find the page I wanted in the history, but it wasn’t as easy as Chrome which keeps all devices, history and tabs, in an easy-to-access place. I think getting that tab sync smoother and easier to navigate would really help Firefox get on par with Chrome here. It definitely worked better than Opera Mobile sync, which I used for a while earlier this year.

So while Firefox sync was not as straightforward as Chrome, it definitely gets the job done very well. If the goal is to have access to all you bookmarks and and browsing history on any device, Firefox gets it done.

Next: Working with Firefox desktop UI, extensions and more.

Living on Firefox Pt. 2: Getting in Sync
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