Software

How to run Firefox Quantum on a Chromebook

Is Firefox a worthy replacement on ChromeOS? Jack Wallen answers this question and walks you through the process of installing Firefox Quantum.

firefoxchromehero.jpg
Image: Jack Wallen

Chromebooks are an amazing tool—one of unmatched efficiency, speed, and ease of use. However, with the release of Firefox Quantum, Chromebook users might feel a bit left out of one seriously amazing experience.

Fear not, intrepid Chromebookies, all is not lost. With a device that supports the Android App store, you're one step away from using the fastest browser on the market. Naturally, you wonder, "Is it worth using?" Considering ChromeOS was built around the Chrome browser, is making use of a third-party for the same purpose a worthwhile endeavor?

Let's install and find out.

Installation

The installation is simple if you have a Chromebook that supports Android apps. If you're unsure, check here:

Stable channel

  • Acer Chromebook R11
  • Acer Chromebook R13
  • Acer Chromebook Spin 11
  • Acer Chromebook 14
  • Acer Chromebook 14 for Work
  • Acer Chromebook 15 (CB3-532)
  • Acer Chromebook 11 N7 (C731, C731T)
  • AOpen Chromebox Mini
  • AOpen Chromebase Mini
  • ASUS Chromebook Flip C100PA
  • ASUS Chromebook Flip C213
  • ASUS Chromebook Flip C302
  • ASUS Chromebook C202SA
  • ASUS Chromebook C300SA / C301SA
  • CTL NL61 Chromebook
  • CTL Chromebook J2 / J4
  • Dell Chromebook 11 Convertible (3189)
  • Dell Chromebook 13 (7130)
  • Dell Chromebook 11 (3180)
  • Dell Chromebook 13 (3380)
  • eduGear Chromebook M Series
  • eduGear Chromebook K Series
  • Edxis Education Chromebook
  • Google Chromebook Pixel (2015)
  • Google Pixelbook
  • Haier Chromebook 11e
  • HiSense Chromebook 11
  • HP Chromebook x360 11G1 EE
  • HP Chromebook 11G5 EE
  • HP Chromebook 13 G1
  • Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook
  • Lenovo N23 Chromebook
  • Lenovo N23 Yoga Chromebook
  • Lenovo IdeaPad N42 Chromebook
  • Lenovo N22 Chromebook
  • Lenovo N42 Chromebook
  • Lenovo Thinkpad 11e Chromebook (Gen 3)
  • Lenovo ThinkPad 11e Chromebook (Gen 4)
  • Lenovo Thinkpad 11e Yoga Chromebook (Gen 4)
  • Lenovo Thinkpad 13 Medion Chromebook S2015
  • Mercer Chromebook NL6D
  • NComputing Chromebook CX100
  • Nexian Chromebook 11.6"
  • PCMerge Chromebook PCM-116E
  • Poin2 Chromebook 11
  • Poin2 Chromebook 14
  • Samsung Chromebook 3
  • Samsung Chromebook Plus
  • Samsung Chromebook Pro
  • Sector 5 E1 Rugged Chromebook
  • Viglen Chromebook 11

Beta channel

  • Acer Chromebook 11 (C740)
  • Dell Chromebook 11 (7310)

Dev channel

  • ASUS C301SA

If you have one of the above Chromebooks, you're in luck—you can install Firefox Quantum. How do you do it? If you haven't already enabled this feature, it's simple:

  1. Open the Settings app on your Chromebook
  2. Scroll down until you see the entry for Google Play Store
  3. Tap (or click) the entry for Google Play Store
  4. Click to enable the Google Play Store
  5. Click Get Started and agree to the Terms of Service

See: How to install Android apps on your supported Chromebook (TechRepublic)

Now that your device can install apps from the Google Play Store, you can then open the Play Store app, search for Firefox, and install.

Version discrepancy

Firefox Quantum started with version 57 on the desktop. I installed the latest version of Firefox from the Google Play Store, only to discover it was version 56. It turns out, there are some pieces for Firefox Quantum that aren't ready for the mobile browser—specifically, the CSS Renderer. This is actually the main component that gives Firefox 57 the blazing speeds it has achieved.

Even with that piece of the puzzle missing, Firefox for Android does have the new Photon UI and custom tabs so it's still very much worth having. If you really want that CSS Renderer sooner rather than later, you can always install the Firefox Beta (also to be had from the Google Play Store). This version of the browser contains all the pieces that make up Firefox Quantum.

Dare to make it your default?

Should it come time for you to open a URL from outside a browser, you will be prompted to select an app for the action at hand. With either Firefox or Firefox Beta (or both) installed, you will be prompted (Figure A) to select which browser to use and if you want to use it for only that instance (Just once) or as your default (Always).

Figure A

Figure A

Choosing your default browser.

The big caveat to this is ChromeOS has no mechanism for setting the default browser back. There are two ways you can get out of this, should you want to return to using Chrome as the default browser:

  • Uninstall Firefox
  • Install another third-party browser and then when prompted select Chrome as the default, and uninstall the third-party browser.

Is it worth the fuss?

If this were on a standard desktop I'd say, without hesitation, Firefox Quantum most certainly is your best bet as the default browser. However, on ChromeOS things get a bit murky. One of the biggest issues I quickly discovered was Firefox only had two window sizing modes—maximized or smartphone. As you can see (Figure B), the smartphone mode simply won't work.

Figure B

Figure B

The smartphone mode on Firefox isn't really a valid option.

On top of the above issue, any time you switch between maximized and smartphone modes, Firefox has to restart.

If you're like me, you tend to work with windows of all sizes on ChromeOS, so the inability to control the size of the Firefox window is a deal breaker. That, of course, doesn't really hinder Firefox's ability to perform on the Chromebook. In fact, the performance differences between Firefox and Chrome are almost imperceptible—on the desktop, Firefox Quantum easily beats Chrome. Firefox Beta renders sites as quickly and as well as Chrome.

There is, however, one other issue some users might find with running Firefox on ChromeOS—you're running the mobile version of the browser. This means you can't pin tabs, there are no sidebars for the likes of bookmarks, and there is no bookmarks bar to be had.

In the end, using Firefox on a Chromebook is for those who want to have a choice about which browser to use. Because Chrome is so deeply embedded in ChromeOS, using Firefox as the default browser eventually becomes an exercise in frustration and inefficiency. My advice is to install Firefox and use it as a secondary browser. It's nice to have and use, but Chrome is too entangled with the platform and device to make Firefox a logical default.

Also see

About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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