Today, Google released a powerful browser synchronization extension for Firefox. It’s a powerful and practical tool for anyone who routinely uses multiple workstations. Once the extension has been added to Firefox it allows for the synchronization of bookmarks, cookies, saved passwords, and browser history.
Simply install the extension on two or more workstations. The extension preferences require an existing Google login and a PIN number must be created. The extension copies the browser information from the workstation to a server at Google where it can then be accessed by other browsers that also have the extension installed. Since the data being synchronized might be sensitive, Google also allows the information to be encrypted.
Once the data is on the Google server, it can then be synchronized with other copies of Firefox. As the Firefox information is updated, for example bookmarks added, the extension routinely syncs the data with the remote server automatically. This makes it easily available to the other copies of Firefox.
The Extension in Action:
For my work habits, this extension is a perfect solution to the last of my synchronization problems. I routinely switch between my G4 desktop and my MacBook. I use Apple’s .Mac synchronization services to keep much of my data persistent, but Firefox has always been a problem. I simply never had a good way of keeping my Firefox bookmarks in sync. Thanks to Google, this is no longer an issue.
The extension allows the user to select what data they would like synchronized. With five options to choose from, I chose to synchronize only my bookmarks. I have no need to keep my history replicated, and I simply will not allow anyone access to my archive of saved passwords. Google offers an ability to encrypt the data before it leaves the workstation, but the best security is the most paranoid.
One of the technical notes I read on the extension warned that it could take longer for Firefox to launch with this extension installed. This is because a sync is done at the time of launch and, depending on how much data there is to be synchronized, it could take longer to complete the interaction with the remote server.
It should be clearly understood that Google is using servers at its facilities to allow the synchronization to occur. Browsers with this extension installed are not interacting directly with each other. Rather they each communicate with the Google server and use it as a third party intermediary. While this is an efficient and logical way to exchange data, it raises security concerns. First of all, data could potentially be intercepted in transit to or from the Google servers. To resolve this issue, Google offers users the ability to encrypt there data before it is transmitted. This is a simple process. Just check a box in the preferences and the encryption is taken care of.
Secondly, in order for the data to be available for synchronization at any time, a copy of it must be maintained on the Google servers. This means that the users data is only as safe as Google’s security. While there are few online services that I trust as much as Google, I’m still not comfortable storing my browser’s saved passwords on any machine that is out of my control.
As a result of these concerns, I selected the option to synchronize only my bookmarks and I encrypted them for safety sake. And since I am syncing a relatively small amount of data, my browser launch times should remain fast as well.
The Final Word:
Google’s release of the Browser Sync Extension is the solution I needed to finally keep my Firefox information up to date between my desktop and portable computers. The solution is simple, powerful, and well thought out. Yet another great innovation from Google.
To install Google’s Browser Sync Extension, follow this link.