Matt's Blog

Google Chrome, is it Just Another Web Browser?

September 2nd, 2008 at 7:27 PM (2257 days ago) by Matt Freedman

Google Chrome BetaToday Google released the latest browser to enter the flurry that is the web browser market, Google Chrome. Chrome is Google’s answer to the growing needs of the web, and is intended to just “[get] out of your way and [get] you where you want to go.” They also descibe it as “[...] a browser that combines a minimal design with sophisticated technology to make the web faster, safer, and easier.” But, is this just another web browser? Let’s dig deep into Chrome to find out.

Google Chrome is open source and is powered by the Webkit rendering engine; the same engine that powers Safari, MobileSafari (or iPhone Safari, if you will) and partially powers Adobe AIR. This means that Chrome is not another browser that web designers/developers will have to worry about, it will render pages the same as in Safari.

Initial Impressions

Alright, enough of those technical details, let’s get into the visual ones. Here’s a screenshot of a newly opened tab, with some other tabs open alongside it (click for a larger view):

Google Chrome - New Tab/Home Screen

On first sight of Google Chrome, you’ll probably notice the following:

  • There’s very little “window chrome” – This is actually where Chrome gets its name, due to its very minimalistic approach to window chrome. Heck, it doesn’t even say the browser’s name anywhere on the Chrome (just “Google”).
  • There’s no search box – Google said that it found that users got confused to where they should be typing in addresses when there’s both an address bar and a search box. So Google combined the two into an “OmniBar” (let’s see, we have the “AwesomeBar” for Firefox, “Smart Address Bar” for Internet Explorer 8 and now “OmniBar” for Chrome, you’re still following, right?). In my small time of testing, this seems to work well.
  • There’s no context menus – Google does away with any File menus, and just replaces it with two small buttons to the right side of the screen (this is also the direction Microsoft is going with Vista and Internet Explorer).

Performance

One of the main purposes of Chrome is to be super fast. Notably, the browser is very quick to start up, and very quick to open up a new tab. This is by far the snappiest browser I’ve ever used. I’ve found that Javascript intensive websites (for example, Gmail or Google Reader) feel far faster in Chrome than they do in Firefox or Internet Explorer. The average site feels about the same in Chrome than it does in Firefox or Internet Explorer.

Interestingly, Chrome is also very unlikely to crash or become unresponsive. This is because each tab is given its own separate process (so if you have multiple tabs open, you’ll see multiple instances of “chrome.exe” in your Windows Task Manager), meaning that when a site in one tab is unstable, it may cause that tab to become unresponsive and crash, but the rest of your tabs will remain responsive and in perfect working order. This actually does work, I went to a site that used Shockwave, then the Shockwave Player crashed and the tab became unresponsive, however the rest of Chrome was perfectly fine. Chrome will then actually tell you why the tab became unresponsive (or crashed). This has already proved to be much more convienant than the whole browser crashing and then restarting (Mozilla and Microsoft should take note of this). However, there is one problem with this, when you’re in the Task Manager, there is no way to tell which chrome.exe process is associated with what tab. So, if there’s a process that’s using a large amount of resources, there’s no way to know which tab to close down. Hopefully they’ll be able to fix this by adding the tab name to the description of the process, or with some similar solution. UPDATE: There actually is a way to tell which process is which, see my post on it here.

Shockwave Plugin Crash

Interface

I quite like Chrome’s user interface (UI). Such as how it takes up very little room (which is especially nice on a notebook) and feels very intuitive and efficient. Doing away with the redundant title bar was a good move. You can ever make the window chrome even smaller by maximizing the window. In the screenshot directly below, you’ll also notice how in the “OmniBar” the actual domain is in focus, while the rest of the URL is slightly faded out. Internet Explorer 8 does this, and it’s a nice touch to help prevent misleading phishing URLs from tricking users into thinking the site is legit when it isn’t.

Faded OmniBar

The tabs are something interesting all together. Obviously, they’ve been moved to the very top of the window, and they look very sleek and modern (like all of Chrome does), but the functionality goes much deeper than that. You can do the usual stuff with them, like drag then around and order them the way you like them, but you can also do much more. You can drag the tabs out of the tab bar, and Chrome will automatically open a new window to house it in. This is particularly useful for making web applications feel more like desktop applications. For example, drag a tab with Gmail open in it out of the tab bar, and boom, you’ve got it in a new window, just like a desktop email client (such as Outlook) would be. You can even drag tabs back and forth between multiple Chrome windows. You can also create “Application Shortcuts” which allows you to add a shortcut to the Desktop, Start Menu and Quick Launch bar, which will open a specific website in a window that doesn’t have the OmniBar or any other window chrome in it. This furthers the desktop application feel.

Application Shortcut Standalone Window

Application Desktop Shortcut

I also like Google’s approach to the status bar, it only appears when it actually has something to display. No more status bar that just says “Done” that sits there wasting space.

Google Chrome Status Bar

Bookmark ButtonHowever, I do have a few gripes with parts of the interface. First of all, Chrome includes a built-in spell checker, which checks the spelling of things you type into textboxes. That’s good, and useful, but there’s no way to add a new term to the dictionary. Secondly, when I was trying to bookmark a page, I had a hard time finding the bookmark button. I looked through the two little “context menus”, but there was nothing there. I scanned across the minimalistic interface, but nothing really caught my eye. I right-clicked on the tab and page, again, there was nothing. Then I found it, the little star to the left of the address bar. You click that and it lets you add a bookmark. This is the exact same place that the site’s favicon appears in Firefox and Internet Explorer, so you can understand my confusion. Lastly, (not necessarily an interface issue) I can use the right edge of my notebook’s touchpad to scroll down, but I can’t use it to scroll up. Which is extremely annoying, as I have to reach for my arrow keys, or use my mouse to adjust the actual scrollbar.

Google Services Integration

What I find so fascinating about this browser is the fact that Google hasn’t really integrated any of its services into it. About the only way it interacts with Google is through the search features (which you can easily change to another search engine). iGoogle isn’t the homepage, Feeds aren’t opened in Google Reader and you don’t need to sign into a Google Account. Although Google probably could have gotten away with some integration into its services, it didn’t, and to me that shows that they’re dedicated to making a true browser, and not just a Google promoter.

Features and Miscellaneous Facts

Google ChromeAlthough I’ve already covered most of the major features in the above sections, there’s still plenty of smaller features included with Chrome. Since this post is getting a bit lengthy, I’ll just present a few of them in list form.

  • Chrome is completely open-source – Chromium (which is Chrome’s codename) is licensed under the BSD license. You can find Chromium on Google Code here.
  • Integrated Google Gears Support – The popular offline/local caching plugin comes preloaded in Chrome, ready to download your unread Google Reader items, or help speed up your WordPress admin surfing.
  • Google will soon release a completely open API for Chrome, so that people will be able to create add-ons for it
  • Download Manager – Chrome has a built-in download manager, which looks pretty slick.
  • Chrome has a built-in password manager.
  • There is currently no Google Toolbar available for Chrome.
  • Chrome’s useragent contains “Safari”, so any sites doing conditional stuff for Safari (they should really specify “Webkit”) will also show in Chrome.

Gallery

Here’s a few random screenshots from around Google Chrome.

About Google Chrome
About Google Chrome

Incognito Mode
Incognito Mode

View Source
View Source

Page Menu
“Page” Menu

Tools Menu
“Tools” Menu

Find Box
Find Box

Conclusion

Although I do question Google on why they’re bringing out their own web browser, when they already fund Mozilla ten’s of millions of dollars a year (which without Firefox probably wouldn’t exist for long), to have Google as the homepage and default search engine, but I’m defiantly not going to argue about it. Overall, I believe that Google Chrome is an excellent browser, and with a little work could win a sizable chunk of market share away from the current top browsers (Internet Explorer and Firefox). The fact that it will render pages the same as Safari also means that web developers won’t have to worry about Chrome gaining market share, since it isn’t another browser to test in.

To answer the question originally posed in this post, no, I do not think Google Chrome is “just another web browser”. After only this short time of playing with it, I have already set Google Chrome my default browser (which isn’t something I do lightly). Finally, to those of you who have some privacy concerns about Google Chrome, please see Matt Cutts’ post on the topic at his blog, here and well you’re at it, check out his great FAQ on Chrome here.

Google Chrome is currently available for Windows XP and Vista; Linux and Mac OS X versions are coming soon. Get Google Chrome Now.

5 Responses to “Google Chrome, is it Just Another Web Browser?”

  1. Michael Kwan
    Michael Kwan says:

    Nice post, Matt. Now if only you could feel so passionate (and write so much) on a regular basis. :)

  2. Google Chrome Tab Processes « Matt's Blog
    Google Chrome Tab Processes « Matt's Blog says:

    [...] my post yesterday on Google Chrome I mentioned that one of my kvetches about it was that there was no way to tell which chrome.exe [...]

  3. In The Sphere: What’s New? | BlueFur.com
    In The Sphere: What’s New? | BlueFur.com says:

    [...] Freedman has a comprehensive post discussing Google Chrome, the new web browser from the world’s most popular search engine. Matt dives into features [...]

  4. Play bingo games
    Play bingo games says:

    I like Chrome. It’s simplistic design. BUT Firefox is like that until you add in the functionality – toolbars, delicious buttons, DIGG etc. I’m interested to see if they can keep the minimal approach when implementing these addons or just throw in tool bars to accomodate everything.

  5. olen
    olen says:

    hear hear! And now I’m faced with a consideration of the seemingly blasphemous act of actually UNINSTALLING FIREFOX from my computer. I probably will….

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