On the Chrome bandwagon

Well Twitter and the interwebs sparked up with discussion of Google’s new browser, Chrome, late last night (UK time) and I thought I’d add some ill-formed thoughts of my own. Don’t expect reasoned, complete analysis at this point: the morning coffee is sitting beside me unsipped…

First thing to say is that I enjoyed the web comic that leaked out a day before the formal announcement, although I did wonder at some of the logic at the time.

  • Chrome installed very smoothly on Vista. For a beta, it’s remarkably stable and well-featured. It has been no real secret that Google have been at least tinkering with browser technology for a while, but they’ve made a very credible entry to the space by coming along with something so (relatively) complete and solid as a first release.
  • I didn’t quite get the reasoning behind the inversion of current UI paradigms with the tabs along the top of the window. I’ll be interested to see how this looks across the major OS platforms. Phil mentions that it’s probably easier when each tab represents a separate process, and Phani points out that it lets them associate the address bar and tools with a tab rather than the window. I guess I’m more used to a platform-native look-and-feel now.
  • Some of the touches in chome-bad-httpsthe UI are quite nice – sites with insecure SSL certificates appear with a crossed-out line through the https, and in common with Firefox 3 it initially warns with a big red page when the site is not trusted.
  • It seems fast, but I typically browse with a lot of tabs open in Firefox so I could just be “used” to a slower browsing experience brought on by bad habits.
  • On that note, the concept that a “bad tab” won’t kill my browser really, really appeals to me. The design of this feature leaves me wondering whether we are going in another technology loop (processes good, threads bad) but I’m willing to be convinced.
  • I like the idea of the start page with thumbnails of favourite pages. I’ll be the other browsers adopt that soon.
  • I like the idea of “application shortcuts” which can go straight onto the desktop. It makes sense. Lots of applications are webapps now.
  • Flash “just works”. Java does not.
  • On the subject of plugins… I’ve come to depend on a lot of the plugins that I can get for Firefox. Given the heritage of the Chrome development team, and the model that the comic describes for isolating plugins / scoping them to a tab, I assume that it will be possible to extend Chrome… but the user-visible extension points are currently limited (no menu bar, no status bar) so it will be interesting to see how they approach this and what the take-up is likely to be.
  • The developer tools that are built-in are very impressive… nice source viewer, element inspector, and the “task manager” with “stats for nerds” gives an interesting glimpse into the way the browser and task isolation is working.
  • RSS feeds don’t appear to display. I half-expected an RSS link to whisk me off to Google Reader – I have no doubt that all my base WILL belong to Google here. Maybe that’s a “todo” feature.
  • Another technical thought – are images in Chrome rendered with colour profiles? I assume so since it uses WebKit, but I’m not sure.

I’ve been saying to people for a while now that Apple has been worth watching… using WebKit as the basis of Safari, Dashboard widgets for OS X, and the iPhone. With this (re)use of the same techology by Google, I’m intrigued to see where all of this will take the browser. With Google’s brand recognition and reach, this has the potential to be a very disruptive move.

Update: WOAH, major licensing issues. And Mark Cathcart brings some interesting perspectives, too. For now, I’m removing Chrome.

Update: as Mark and Justin note below, the EULA has been fixed. Chrome gets a reprieve and can come back to my system, for experimentation purposes at least.

16 thoughts on “On the Chrome bandwagon”

  1. Hey,
    Regarding your comment on “Flash just works”, we also posted a comment from @Samiq on how Silverlight (Microsoft’s version of Flash functionality) does.
    We also agree that Twitter did a great job in getting everyone the info around Chrome and our most recent post recognizes this achievement. Take a look at http://GetGoogleChrome.com

  2. I downloaded it, loaded GMail, discovered a friend had tagged some photos in Facebook so fired it up.

    I clicked “next” on the first photo. It worked. I clicked “next” on the next photo. Nothing happened.

    I tried clicking again, opening in a new tab…. nothing happened. I could return to the album summary but clicking on a photo and trying to browse with “next” hung again.

    It then became slow to respond and other tabs slowed down and behaved erratically.

    Nice try, Google but I won’t be switching to your browser just yet…

  3. interested to see how you find chrome vs safari (assuming you use it on windows or pc).. for me safari with mobile me is nice as i can swap all my bookmarks (slowly) and seamlessly…

    be interesting to see how it all pans out…

  4. Developers had an easy play before, where only FF provided them with a way to create plugins… all of a sudden, will they have to target two platforms (FF + Chrome) and do double the work, to reach a fragmented audience?

  5. I don’t use Safari on Windows (or, actually, the Mac). I’ve tried it, but again, Firefox provides more function through plugins.

    It’s actually not the case that only FF can do plugins – IE can do plugins too. I don’t know of many where developers have gone to the effort of creating IE plugins though, as you are into compiled code (C# I think) to build them, whereas in FF it is more scripting. The whole plugin / extensible web platform question is an interesting area for Chrome though, especially with the developers’ stated desire for the browser itself to be invisible.

  6. I’ve written IE and Firefox plugins before.

    In Firefox, it’s very Javascript-esque – very friendly scripting.

    In IE, it’s coding in C++ that you compile into a DLL that you register with IE. It’s fairly hideous – time to get something to work is orders of magnitude greater than in FF.

    I’m not surprised that you only see a few IE plugins around, and typically only from the bigger, well-established sites (e.g. del.icio.us).

    I’ve not read anything about the approach in Chrome yet, though.

  7. surely the real significance is that Chrome is designed as an application platform, the invisible browser – I don’t see a conflict between Chrome and Firefox developers any more than between Flash and Firefox developers. Browsers are not where the money is, owning the users applications, browsing and search habits…now you’re talking…

  8. Hi Andy, The EULA got fixed: http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20080903-google-on-chrome-eula-controversy-our-bad-well-change-it.html

    My two cents – it is damm fast. JavaScript is the fastest I can get (before Safari 4/ FF 3.1 comes out), the process-per-tab (really useful for blog/wiki editing), unified address bar with google/bookmarks search and url entry, Paste-and-go, etc are pretty cool.

    I still miss extensions (foxear, cooliris, etc) so FF is still my primary browser, but for the future it might change. Lets hope FF gets better because of this launch.

    Cool thing with browsers – you can switch and choose at will 😉

  9. I’ve enjoyed using it for the last few days. They borrowed heavily from the Opera browser with the inverted tabs and the Quick Dial web pages on a new tab. Makes sense since a former Opera guy was working on it for google.

  10. @portorikan, interesting- I did wonder if all the similarities were just a coincidence or not. I’ve switched back to Opera but Chrome had some nice touches.

    @chirax, Google are clearly evil so I’m sure it won’t just be a fad 🙂

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