As the entire nerd world knows, today Google released a beta of its new browser, Chrome. I’m not really sure why they’re bothering; like everyone else, I’m vaguely assuming it’s something to do with to competing with Microsoft IE8 and its
pornGoogle-blocker. Like others, I suspect it’s more likely to take market share from the more virtuous Firefox. The rest of the world can speculate more productively than I about what’s going on between Google and Mozilla.
I’ve been using Chrome for entire minutes now, and so far it seems pretty nice. It’s not enormously different from the rest of the world’s browsers, but then, other than generally behaving better what is there to do? And behave better it claims to do: read the comic book(!) to find out how (summary: multi-processing! one process per tab, basically).
The browser’s look and feel is Google-like, simple and streamlined—despite the name, it’s really not all that shiny, and I mean that in a good way. There’s no distracting flash cluttering up the screen; pretty much everything you see is functional.
Like IE7, Chrome has no menu bar; unlike IE7, it seems to have no way to get one. Which is probably just as well—if the browser is well-designed for menulessness you shouldn’t need them, and they can only clutter things up. The tabs are outside the rest of the app, giving a feel of “application inside tab” rather than “tab inside application,” which frankly doesn’t matter much to You the User, but which does presumably reflect the architecture of the browser. Having tabs on top does give the app a slightly different feel from most apps, especially with Windows Vista Aero.
The address bar does more or less what Firefox’s does, as far as I can tell. One nice feature is that the hostname is bolded, so it stands out from the rest of the URL, which for long crufty URLs is nice. There’s no search box, I suppose because the address bar is supposed to do all the searching you need. I’m not quite sure that’s true, as the dynamic autocompletion hints aren’t what they are in a real searchbox; they’re mixed with address history, I suppose.
To its credit it does seem very fast, both opening from scratch and opening new tabs. That’s one of my very few major beefs with Firefox; it takes so darned long to start the first time. IE starts relatively quickly—I assume that’s because most of its entrails are wrapped around the OS, and hence already loaded—but opens tabs infuriatingly slowly. Firefox can also hang waiting for applications, which Chrome claims not to do; but I can’t really judge that yet.
The controls and options and settings are all simple, which is excellent. But of course the downside is that there are settings that just aren’t there. They’re mostly minor things—new tabs open next to the tab you’re in, while I’d like them to open at the far right; I’d like to make the controls a little smaller to save screen space (both settable in FF)—but they’re on the “need more features” side of the too-simple/too-complex spectrum. IE, being a Microsoft product, pegs the too-complex needle, and not for any discernable reason; MS’s Internet settings dialog is an Abomination Before the Lord. Firefox does an excellent job of presenting options, and indeed Google’s options box seems to be copying Firefox’s philosophy, just without so much there yet. I do see some tiny niggly UI flaws—there’s no ellipsis after “Options” in the tools menu, for example. I’m a stickler for other people getting fiddly details right.
I think what I miss most from Firefox is Adblock Plus (you can argue with me about the propriety of adblockers some other time; the quick version of my position is that I don’t mind ads per se—in fact I rather like good ones—but I can’t abide all the animation and seizure-inducing flashing, and most repugnant of all the noise, of so many ads). Chrome will of course accumulate plugins, but that might be one Google doesn’t really want to accumulate.
Some other problems. Chrome does not seem to run Java(!) I assume that will be fixed during the beta (but when you ASSUME you make an ASS of U and ME…). There’s no Print Preview (haven’t tried printing yet; that’s something browsers generally don’t do well). It doesn’t render unicode characters outside the Basic Multilingual Plane properly (see this for a simple example). (I filed a bug about that one, using the handy built-in bug reporter.) I’m sure there are more that I’ll run into. Or that I’ve already forgotten about.
Well, that’s more than enough for now. My plan is to use both Chrome and my beloved Firefox for a while, and see if I get sick of Chrome or decide I can’t live without it.