Initial Thoughts on Chrome

The Google Chrome browser came out this afternoon, and after reading the comic book description of its features and innovations I wanted to give it a try. The ideas behind it seemed intriguing, and I’m willing to admit that I’m a bit of a Google fangirl. I used it for the afternoon and evening, performing a variety of tasks including working with my course management software and the college’s registration/enrollment system, checking email, and generally websurfing, for work and for pleasure.
Installation, as you would expect, is easy, and, if you are using Firefox at least, if you let it import your bookmarks and settings you’ll end up with a configuration that really is ready to go; for example anything in your bookmark toolbar is pulled out similarly in Chrome. It feels like it runs faster than Firefox, but I haven’t tested that in any quantitative manner.
Maybe the coolest technological innovation is the use of separate processes for each tab, and for plug-ins. It makes sense that this can help address the problems of memory leakage. The Task Manager is great. You really can check out which tabs and/or plugins are taking up resources, and if you click through the provided link you can get even more fun information about the memory usage of the various processes associated with Chrome. It is (hopefully) a sign of its beta status that you access that additional information through a link labeled “Stats for nerds”.
The “New Tab” page that one gets when opening a new tab could turn out to be a cool feature but it clearly will improve as I use it. Just off the bat I like the recently closed tabs list, though it really does seem to mean “recently” in the temporal sense, not “your three most recently closed tabs”.
Somebody else had to point out to me that you can search directly from the address bar. That’s novel enough to me that I probably could have used Chrome for a week (or a month….) without having figured that out, because I would never have thought to try it. I’m sure it was mentioned in the comic book somewhere but I didn’t remember it. You can also use the address bar to search within other sites if you have previously done a search at them using their domain specific tool after having explicitly typed their domain into the address bar – it doesn’t work if you got to the site through a search or some other link. I’m finding the interface for that a bit odd, but I’ve set it up to have address bar searches into Amazon and Wikipedia and I’ll see how I like it. Basically, if I type ‘a’ and then tab, I get an Amazon search; ‘w’ and a tab gets me a Wikipedia search.
I find the lack of menus at the top of the window sort of distressing, though. It looks like my window is wrong – like there is some type of OS error going on and it hasn’t finished filling in the menus in the blank space above the tabs. This doesn’t feel like a Windows specific complaint to me either – I don’t think I’ve used any graphical operating system that doesn’t have menus for File, Edit, etc. and despite your OS of choice, you probably have a pretty strong association for what to expect in each one. It just seems like an odd choice to depart from such a prevalent model. Redundant access would be okay with me, if you think there are better places for some of those functionalities to be listed. But moving my mouse all the way to the right side of the screen to access the “Save page…” function feels wrong.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around the whole Google Gears thing, so I’ll have to say more about that later. Practically speaking, I have found two uses for it. First, it is the engine behind the “Create application shortcuts…” option that allows you to create a shortcut directly to a webpage (I think usually you would want this to be some web app you frequently used) which when opened will display that page in a “streamlined” Chrome window without the usual tabs, address bar, etc. I set one up for Google Reader and the interesting thing is if I click on one of the headlines in my feeds, which are set to open in new tabs, it throws the tabs back to my open Chrome window that does have the full tabbing environment. Frustratingly, if I do this using the ‘V’ shortcut, it no longer marks that item as read in Reader, the way it does if you view using ‘V’ inside a regular Chrome window. Honestly, that seems broken to me. From what I read the “Create application shortcuts” feature is supposed to work nicely with Gmail.
Google Reader also seems to have a new feature that, if you use it via Chrome, Google Gears allowed them to build a tool to download the needed content to continue browsing your feeds offline. No, that doesn’t mean that you can read through to the linked pages, but it does download all of your unread feeds with their summaries, and your starred items. I use my starred items folder to save interesting content to look at later, so that’s a pretty neat feature to me.
Overall, it’s a web browser. They admit up front it’s a bit sparse on features to start because they are focusing on building a strong underlying framework. How successfully they did that is something that I think will come out more in the next few days as people really put it through its paces and tear it apart. Honestly, I think the thing I have liked the most so far is the comic. Scott McCloud has a knack for this sort of instructional comic (he does some great things for Make magazine), and I was surprised at how far into the technical details the comic got. I’d definitely recommend taking the time to actually sit down and read it if you’re at all interested in the issues behind software development.

2 thoughts on “Initial Thoughts on Chrome

  1. Not that I would ever recommend this, but if you are one of the poor souls out there still using IE, you can also import your settings from that by going into the install settings before you install. I don’t remember what they are actually called though because I noticed this earlier at work and I can’t test it now because there isn’t a Mac version released as of this time.
    I am torn on how to feel about this. On one hand, a majority of their target audience is using a Windows machine, and it’s never a bad thing to get your product out there as soon as it’s stable. But on the other hand, it seems as if they are saying “You’re the ones who are using either Firefox or Safari, so there isn’t huge demand for a new browser for you”.

  2. It does seem odd to me that they don’t even seem to have a projection or plan for creating a Mac version – at least that I have read about in any of their descriptions of the project. To stereotype horribly, Mac users may need the new browser less, but they may also be more likely to play with a shiny new Google toy than a Windows user who is still using IE.

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