Why Did Google Kill Its Firefox Toolbar?

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Let’s not get sentimental about the tools we use, says Peter Judge. Google giveth, and Google taketh away

With the sheer quantity of tools and services offered by Google’s multifarious tentacles, it might seem strange to focus on one little toolbar. But it was a toolbar I liked, and I miss it.

When I installed Firefox 5, I expected, as usual, all my add-ons to smoothly transition, or at least to get a prompt to download a new version. Instead, I was told that the Google Toolbar was not compatible with the new version of Firefox.

Toolbar killed to push users to Chrome?

I’ve been using the toolbar for about six years, and it rapidly became a customary and very habitual part of my working life.

With the toolbar in place, I could easily search out news stories and images on any subject, and trawl the back catalogue of any site (normally my own) using “Site search”.

All the toolbar functions are – Google assures us – available in other plug-ins. To be honest, the features I used are available on the Google home page. Some can even be done from the Google search field in my browser (I can search my site for Firefox by “site:eweekeurope.co.uk Firefox”).

But all that is fractionally more hassle. There might be other ways of doing what I do that are easier, but in order to do them I have to learn something new – which is time consuming.

My reliance on the toolbar has been such that Firefox has remained my default browser, even when it became clear that Chrome normally performs better (though Firefox does fine) and also despite the continuous round of Firefox updates, which can make it more troublesome.

I like Chrome, but it doesn’t have a Google toolbar.

So it has been a piece of Google software that has kept me from moving to Google’s browser.

All of this leads me to believe those who say Firefox axed the toolbar to boost Chrome, and to stop lending support to the competition. There are two facts that make this look even more likely. firstly, Chrome is about to overtake Firefox in market share, and secondly, Mozilla is working on an operating system to compete with Chrome on netbooks and tablets.

Is Google evil?

Now, some people commenting on Google’s blog announcement have said this is an example of Google becoming “evil” (as it famously promised not to be).

I think that’s a bit strong for a company simply withdrawing support and resources from a free piece of software. Anyone who is surprised and outraged at this has been operating under a false and naive view of what Google is really all about.

The web is a continuously evolving medium, and I know that new ways to find and consume content will keep evolving. In a few days time, I may even be happier, having discovered better ways to do things than following my old habits. Keeping flexible is one way to pretend we have not become, as Thoreau warned, “the tools of our tools”.

But for now, I have to say that I am missing the Google toolbar. And yes, its withdrawal has ever-so-slightly diminished my personal estimation of the company.

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