Google Browser Sync --> Weave?

June 14, 2008

Update: It looks like a tab-syncing version of Weave will be released on June 20th!

A few days ago it was "announced" that Google was discontinuing support for Google Browser Sync, which is, without a doubt, the most useful Firefox extension I use. In a response to a user's inquiry regarding GBS support in Firefox 3, Google said the following:

It was a tough call, but we decided to phase out support for Browser Sync. Since the team has moved on to other projects that are keeping them busy, we don't have time to update the extension to work with Firefox 3 or to continue to maintain it.

Grr. I understand that they have much bigger fish to fry, and that GBS makes absolutely no money for them (as far as I can tell), but so many of us have to come to rely on it, and in a very big way. I'm not saying they should maintain it forever, or even that it should remain free, but it would be nice if it could be kept alive just a little longer; maybe at least until someone else offered something similar?

Well, it looks like the void may be filled sooner than we thought. Keep reading.

I hate inefficient, repetitive manual labor

I'll be honest, I don't care about 80% of what GBS does, and in fact, most of what it does can be done by other extensions or combinations of extensions. I mainly care about session restoration across multiple machines, something that no other extension, browser, or service currently supports.

I realize that my use case may be a little different than most — I generally cycle between two machines each day and my browser rarely has less than 50 open tabs — but I must admit that I was still very surprised to see so few mentions of the session-restoration aspect of GBS on sites discussing the death of the extension.

In any event, before GBS, I was made to do the following every singe day, twice:

  • Copy the URI of every open tab on the "first" machine (or every open tab up to a point where I knew the tabs on both machines were already "synced").
  • Paste these URIs into an email sent to myself.
  • Open the email on the "second" machine and open each URI in a new tab.
  • (If multiple windows were opened, each with multiple tabs that I wanted to keep in their respective windows, then the scope of this nonsensical manual labor increased commensurately.)

It's 2008. That's crazy. The Copy All URLs extension made the task bearable, but it was still something that made me angry every time I had to do it. And I had to do it twice a day.

GBS changed all that and allowed me to completely ignore what tabs/windows were open/closed on which machine — if I wanted to make sure that all the open tabs from machine one were available to me on machine two, I simply had to restart the browser on machine two. Period. End of story.

Sure, there were times when it broke, and badly, but it was nothing a little history-surfing and determination couldn't fix. For the most part, GBS worked brilliantly and saved me a lot of time, effort, and worry.

Enter Weave (hopefully)

Sadly, and I think surprisingly, there are currently no other options for multi-machine session restoration. Though relatively new, not even Weave, Mozilla's homegrown web services integrator, supports such a feature, though it seems it will be a part of the next release. From a recent post at the Weave discussion board:

Tab sync is not in the latest release, but it should be in the next one. The way it works is that it periodically saves a list of your open tabs to the Weave server, and it periodically checks the server to see if any tabs have been added by your other computers.

So when you open a tab on a computer with Weave, then go to another computer that also has Weave, Weave will notify you that tabs from the first computer are available and let you pick which ones you want to open.

Nice! If that second part is true, then Weave may actually turn out to be better than GBS, because you won't have to restart the browser to sync tabs/windows.

Given the current, overlapping features between GBS and Weave,1 and the cozy Google-Mozilla relationship, one can't help but think that GBS is being phased out in light of Weave.

I wonder if the tab-syncing version will be released together with Firefox 3 on Tuesday. Hrm.


  1. Yes, I realize fully that the big picture for Weave is much more grandiose than was ever intended for GBS, but its current, very limited feature set finds a lot of parallels in the Google extension.   

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