Playing with Google Chrome

Well, it’s all hit the fan now. There’s a new web browser on the scene from that leviathan of the Internet, Google. Their new offering, Chrome, is now in public beta – so the likes of you and I can get our mitts on it.

Let’s get the obvious question out of the way first: is Chrome something radically new? In short, “no”. It’s a web browser… there’s only so much you can do with a web browser before it becomes confusing to use. If anything, Chrome seems like an attempt to pare a browser down to the essentials – it feels quite minimalist at times!

Having said that, there are some nifty features:

Your favourite sites

Favourite Sites

The usual, sir?
Chrome suggests sites it thinks are your favourites.

When you open a new tab, Chrome displays your bookmarks and a grid of thumbnails of the sites you visit most often. The idea is that you are more likely to visit one of your favourite sites than any other (that’s why they’re your favourites!), so by having them right there you can get to them more quickly than going to your bookmarks menu, searching, or typing in the URL. And as your browsing habits change, so do the site selections displayed for you.

Incognito Windows

Incognito Windows

Go undercover with incognito windows

This is one that’ll tell what kind of mind you have! Chrome has “incognito windows” that allow you to browse without affecting your history. So whatever you look at will not be recorded… Of course, this is for organising surprise parties and holidays!

Whether you’re using someone else’s computer, organising something you don’t want other users to know about, or up to something else, the incognito windows are a pretty cool addition.

Quick recovery for dead tabs

Chrome's Sad Tab

Chrome has the decency to look sad
when things go wrong!

One of the engineering decisions that the Google team made with Chrome was to have every browser tab running in its own process. If that doesn’t mean much to you, think of it like this: your computer has a number of tasks running at any one time… each program will show up as at least one process, while the operating system will be managing the network, drawing the display, reading the keyboard and mouse, and so on. If any one of those tasks gets hung up, it can’t continue until the problem has been resolved. Typically, browsers work as one large process, so if a tab crashes the whole browser may get stuck. With Chrome, however, each tab is its own process. So if one crashes, the others can carry on working without too much worry.

I found this myself today when I was in Plurk and the browser fell over. Normally that would require me to restart the whole browser and lose anything I’d been doing in another tab – but today I got a sad face and simply had to refresh the offending tab to get back on track. And all the while there were no adverse effects on anything else I was doing. This isn’t going to affect you every day, but when your tab crashes you’ll be glad that you don’t have to close everything just to recover.

On the other hand…

It’s not quite all sweetness and light, though. I did notice some rendering funnies on a few sites (page elements out of place or overlapping) but I think this is a “feature” of webkit, Chrome’s rendering engine, as when I tried the same pages in Safari (which also uses webkit) I got the exact same results. So, if you’re already using Safari and the pages you visit look fine, it’s a fair bet that they will also look fine in Chrome. You should also be aware that if you want to use Java with Chrome you need the latest beta version from Sun. If you’re worried about stability and use Java a lot, you might want to go Java-less rather than use another piece of Beta software.

The Verdict

Chrome is a decent enough browser with some nice touches and some well thought out engineering under the hood. In the short time I’ve been playing with it I’ve found it to be stable, quick, and generally a good environment to browse in. Is Chrome a Firefox killer? No, I don’t think so – Firefox has too many good plugins to tempt everyone to ditch it. Is it an essential download? Well, again, no. It’s good to have, and I’ll certainly be using it for a while to see how it performs, but it’s actually much like any other browser. It all comes down to personal choice in the end. Give it a go if you’re interested, but it’s not the end of the world if you use a different browser.

Chrome is currently available for Windows XP/Vista only, with Linux and Mac versions under development. It can be downloaded from here.

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  1. As you rightly said, it may not be an essential download but I was surprised at the smooth rendering and amazingly fast app load. Another good thing is the developer focus (script window, color coded editor etc)

    As Firefox is also meant for linux/unix platforms it may not kill FF as such but definitely the marketshare of both FF and IE will gradually reduce!


  2. Absolutely Ajith, there’s no denying it’s a good browser. I quite enjoyed using it :) I did miss my Stumbleupon and Foxmarks plugins though!

    I guess the market share thing is kind of inevitable: more browsers means the same market will be split between more products, and I reckon there will be people attracted to the fact Chrome is by Google (especially if they already use Google for their e-mail, documents, and so on).

  3. Hopefully the above post will send you some traffic! John. :-)

  4. Arnold - Mr.Gadget says:

    Great work Chris :)
    I like Chrome too but want my FF addons!

  5. Thanks John, and Arnold.

    I would imagine Chrome will only get better as it moves through subsequent versions. Hopefully good addons will come in time.

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