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A first look at Chrome

I’m using Chrome right now to post this; I’ve been trying it out for the last hour or so. My first impression: it is not yet ready to replace Firefox as my primary browser.

It delivers on the promises in the comic. Tabs are first-class entities; a window is more a convenient way to organize a bunch of tabs than a necessity. I didn’t notice any difference in the speed of Javascript, but I’m willing to postulate that it’s improved. The interface is nicely minimalist; there is very little present except the bare minimum necessary for browsing.

However, there are a few things that Chrome lacks that I consider essential for a daily use browser:

  • Open All in Tabs. This ability shapes my daily browsing; to have to revert now to opening collections of pages manually or serially seems absurd. I had hoped that Chrome’s Omnibox would recognize the name of a folder of links and offer that feature automatically, but it does not.
  • Bookmark menu support. Chrome’s natural way to access your bookmarks is by typing into the Omnibox, which is nice enough as far as it goes. However, some people have large, organized collections of bookmarks. When I want one of them, my natural way of getting to it is by opening the bookmarks menu, then drilling down through the subfolders until I have what I want. I may remember no part of the page title or URL, but I can still find what I want this way. Unfortunately, the only direct access to your bookmarks through Chrome is by opening a row of bookmark buttons, which takes up valuable UI space. Lonely on one end of that row is the bookmark menu access button. It would be nice if that button sat next to the other buttons in the primary row.
  • Caching. I want to see a three part strategy for loading commonly accessed pages:
    1. Load and render immediately from the cache
    2. Download simultaneously from site
    3. As the current version of the page comes in, diff against the cached version. As necessary, either completely restart rendering or insert changed elements via DOM manipulation.

    Instead of that, Chrome currently appears to cache nothing at all. I accidentally loaded a page in the current frame instead of a new tab, so I hit the back button. I then had to wait for the site to be completely reloaded before I could relaunch my link. Hitting the back button should be essentially instantaneous.

  • Mature Plugins. The Chrome developers don’t need to worry too much about this one; it’ll fix itself as time passes. However, I won’t be willing to use this as a primary browser until, at a minimum, the equivalent of Adblock Plus┬áis developed.

This is a promising start; given time, Chrome has the potential to develop into a serious competitor against Firefox. However, it’s not quite ready for the prime time yet.

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Comment by Nat Mac OS X Mozilla Firefox 3.0.1
2008-09-03 07:45:04

Here’s what worries me about Chrome. Assume it soon becomes wildly popular (moderately likely, once it’s past infancy). Now Google will, as an organization, be irresistibly tempted to present content that looks better — or works better — on Chrome than on any other browser.

Microsoft has been jerking us around that way for years. Not only do the MS web development tools require IIS on the server side, they require users to use IE. In a previous job, I used FF for everything but our bug tracker — because the !@#$%^? bug tracker required IE.

With luck, Google will recognize in advance how much goodwill such siloing would cost them, and scrupulously avoid it. But — though one of the promises of web apps is portability everywhere — the portability problems merely shift from the domain of (processor + OS) to the domain of browsers. It’s hard to get your Web app to work properly across multiple browsers. In fact it’s expensive, time-consuming and infuriating. Can Google really resist the trap of: “Yay, it works in Chrome, ship it!” ?

Comment by coriolinus Windows XP Mozilla Firefox 3.0.1
2008-09-03 08:17:50

I can only hope that its open-source nature means that any substantial improvements will get picked up quickly. It’s no guarantee, of course, but it should at least help improve the rate of spread of new web features as they come about.

I don’t expect the technology of the internet to remain static. I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point down the line, something big changes–I don’t know if this means easier ways to push content from a server to a browser without going through all the AJAX, or just Javascript frameworks so big and complex that they’re not worth bothering to use anything but the new Javascript engine for, or what. The only thing I know for sure is that the change is inevitable.

Whatever it is, if Google is driving that change, then Chrome will likely contain the reference implementation of whatever technology is necessary to enable it. Given that it’s open source, it’ll be a matter of days before it gets hacked into Firefox, and it’s likely going to be present in the next major release of IE and Safari and so forth.

The simple fact of open source means that it’s impossible for Google to pull some sort of ActiveX stunt wherein they gain an unbeatable advantage which only works for people who use their browser. Hopefully, this knowledge helps them to use their powers only for good.


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