Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Google Chrome: Where's The Shiny Chrome?

I picked up Google's entry into the browser space, Chrome.

A couple hours in, and it isn't bad. First impression, not great though. One of the first things I noticed using Chrome. The youtube movies on the features page it directs the user to are no longer on the web. That's not good. 

I suppose I should give Google a pass on this one because the videos are posted on another site which is outside of their contro...oh. Never mind they goofed that up. 

EDIT: They work now.

All fingerpointing and nitpicking aside. I'm not blown away, but I like it. Is it going to replace Firefox for me? I'm not sure. 

There are a lot of plugins on Firefox that I really like: Selenium IDE, Firebug, ForecastFox, Gmail Notifier, and most of all Mouse Gestures. Mouse gestures are the deal breaker at this point. I've grown very attached to the idea of programming mouse gestures to perform basic browser administration: open new tab, close tab, etc.

Here's what I like. There is very little visual detritus, administrative clutter, or shiny chrome, within the pages. It is bare minimal tool. There isn't the shiny chrome. No unnecessary features. 

Take a look at the toolbar. Notably missing from them are the menus. There's a back forward, reload, Address, page control, and settings button, all in the same line. In the row above that are the tabs, and above that is minimize, maximize and close. There are approximately 79 pixels dedicated to administration. My page was opened to 941 pixels deep. 8.39% of administrative overhead. I think Edward Tufte would tell them ot put the page controls on the same row as the tabs, but would have some positive things to say about the design.

As I write this review and open pages with Chrome I begin to appreciate its minimalism. Some of the features that I don't notice are the performance. Why? Because it just gets the job done. It load pages like a champ.

Oh, look! there isn't a status bar. A little one pops up when events are occurring, e.g., mouseover a link or a page load. That's a great decision. We almost never use the status bar unless something's happening.  

One unique decision that Google made with Chrome is the decision to dedicate a different process for each tab. That's smart. Anyone ever said that of Google people? Well here I am to say that's a good decision. By separating the different tabs into their own processes, the events and contents of one page should be well insulated from the others. This should give Chrome a serious stability and security advantage.

I did notice that Chrome handles the quicktime plugin about as well as any other browser not named Internet Explorer, that is to say I try to install it and nothing happens. Has anyone ever gotten that to work? I'd love to have it because that's how my voicemail gets to me. 

It looks like the shockwave player isn't all that stable either. It seems to have some difficulty with playing movies. The movies stutter from time to time. I even got it to crash. That will need to get better. But it did crash very elegantly. When the tab became unresponsive and I tried to close it a dialog appeared stating that the shockwave player is unresponsive. It asked me if I'd like to close the tab. I did and it did. I could continue doing whatever it was that I was doing. 

EDIT: Now I see you can pull a task manager up from Chrome by right clicking by the Google label. The task manager shows the tasks by tab and allows the user to kill a misbehaving tab. That's a nice feature.

Any other browser would have just crashed the whole thing. What a way to take a bad and turn it into a good thing.

If Chrome handled opening my voicemail without choking it would be a slam dunk. For a first impression. I like Chrome better than Safari and Opera, much better than IE, and on par with Firefox. If I could get some of the addons in Chrome that I can with Firefox, Chrome wins.

In practice though, it has some rough spots. Some pages tend to hang and become unresponsive. Sure it recovers well, but the other tabs are unuseable while the one tab is hanging.

One last cool feature is the thumbnail shortcuts on new browser tabs/windows. It's a nice page with 9 recently visited pages and a bar of favorites. Very well done. I plan to make more use of Chrome in the future.

In conclusion: it has some nice design decisions and features. It isn't quite ready for the big leagues yet, there are a few rough spots which will come with time. If Google, and the open source community, embrace Chrome and mature it into a polished web machine it will be a truly awesome browser. Until then, I'm planning on using it with Firefox in the wings just in case.

EDIT: I'm just going to start tacking on things I notice at the end here:

Cool: Middle clicking links opens a new tab to the right of the current tab. In Firefox it opens a new tab to the right of the rightmost tab. 

Cool: the Address text field is actually a multi purpose field, the Omnibar, it handles searches as well as fully qualified URLs, I don't know how well it would handle searching for a fully qualified URL with other arguments, not too bad if the fully qualified URL isn't the first argument.

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