My Twitter followers will know I’ve been slightly obsessed by Google’s new browser, Chrome, since word leaked that it was going to be released today (Tues, Sept 2). I’ve been hitting reload on the download site fairly obsessively. A few minutes ago my persistence was rewarded and I’m writing to you all from the new browser (here’s the official release announcement).
Why a New Browser?!?
Before I begin, let me recommend the Google Chrome online comic book
for those with tech interests. Google does a good job explaining why they’ve joined the browser wars. At first glance it seems a needless move: they already fund much of the development on the open source Firefox browser
. But Firefox, like Microsoft Internet Explorer
and every other browser, is built around certain assumptions about how browsers process applications. Google is starting from scratch and thinking about the browser as an operating system running increasingly sophisticated applications (like Gmail
). Chrome separates memory process and internet permissions in new ways.
Obviously, Google is going after Microsoft (the initial release of Chrome is Windows only) – not just its browser but its Vista operating system as well. With the expansion of high speed internet access and so-called “cloud computing,” functions that used to require stand-alone clients can now be handled inside the browser. Email has probably become the most widely adopted browser applications but you can also do things photo editing and video recording through the browser. Google knows that once an application is running inside a browser, the operating system doesn’t matter. Gmail works equally fine from Vista
, Mac OS X
, or Linux
It is in Google’s strategic interest to advance the state of browser technology and they do that with Chrome. But it is in the interest that everyone have access to these latest innovations and that all browsers can run the most sophisticated applications Google engineers can put together. So Chrome is open source and Google invites other browsers to incorporate many of its features.
First Thoughts on the Product:
The download was quick and easy (of course).
I was surprised that when installing it only offered to import my MS Internet Explorer bookmarks. My most complete and up-to-date bookmark list is in Firefox (synced among my operating systems by the excellent Foxmarks extension
I went pretty immediately to Gmail. Google says they’ve rewritten a lot of the background rendering code from scratch and I was expecting to see instantaneous loading. Frankly, it seemed to load as quickly as it does in Firefox. Any apparent speed increase isn’t immediately obvious (this is a testament to how fast they’ve managed to get it to load in all browsers).
The interface is very simplified: few buttons, tabs up top, no status bar. There’s a lot of surprises here, like an automatically generated page with thumbnails of your most frequently visited sites (see image, right), an idea borrowed from Opera browser’s
“Speed Dial” feature (available through to Firefox users through the Speed Dial extension
You can also “Create application shortcuts” which turn services such as Gmail into client-like applications that sit on your desktop (screenshot right). Open them up from here and the normal location bar and browser buttons are gone.
There’s a lot more to explore here. It’s obvious that Google has put a lot of thought into this. I’m not going to dismiss any feature or oddity too quickly. They helped a lot of us rethink how we organize email using a single “Archive” folder instead of the elaborately-maintained folder hierarchy. Google actually have put out a number of half-baked and under-supported services (Froogle and Google Checkout come most immediately to mind) but it’s clear that the Google Chrome browser is a very serious initiative by the company.
Will I Use It?
The big question, right? Actually, I won’t use it much for now. For one thing, I’m a Mac user. I have a Windows XP virtual machine running most of the time courtesy of VMWare’s Fusion
. I’m sure Google has set a high priority to make Mac OS X and Linux versions of Chrome – they’re whole strategy rests on this being woven into the browser lingua franca that keeps Microsoft’s Vista at bay, remember?, but until that time Chrome won’t be my natural first choice.
But I’m also going to miss my Firefox extensions. I forgot that the web has lots of ads (Adblock Plus
). And I don’t like the extra clutter of Gmail without Better Gmail 2
(just the “Folders4Gmail” feature of the latter saves my eye more scanning time than any speed tweak Chrome delivers). And these days the Web Developers Toolbar, Lastpass
extensions are pretty essential to my work day.
But if a native Mac version was released? And if Firefox extensions started being rewritten for Chrome? I just flipped back to my regular browser to check something and even after an hour with Chrome, Firefox felt so heavy and clunky. It is possible to see Chrome could a serious contender for my attention.