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Chrome, a Google Browser. It was about time.

I’m sure you have heard a lot about Google Chrome already. If you haven’t tried it yet, keep reading because I have tried it for you, and I will summarize everything you should be aware of.

Alright, did we really need another browser?
Maybe. Google’s approach was to analyze existing technology and then make it better. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The comic strip that introduces the ideas and technology behind the browser states that developers started from scratch. The point was to create a browser compatible with the internet of today, rather than that of decades ago, when browsers were invented.

Again, Google did not re-invent the wheel, but it may be pushing it forward a great deal.

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Cool, so how is it better?
Chrome comes with a lot of promises: stability, speed, security, efficiency, and open source. Frankly, those aren’t new. Neither is most of the technology Google applies. But the combination they chose is very powerful. Let’s have a quick look at the (superficial) technical details:

1. Multiple Processes
Each tab is treated as a single process within Chrome, much like programs within an operating system. Hence you can continue working at full capacity while a busy website in one tab recovers. Should the tab freeze or crash, it’s an isolated event that doesn’t affect any of the other tabs, or the browser as a whole.

2. Task Manager
Chrome has its own Task manager accessible via >Control >Developer or [Shift] + [Esc]. The Task manager reveals which tabs or plugins are running and what they’re doing. If a process is taking up too much memory, you can close it via that Task manager.

3. Webkit
Google applied the rendering engine Webkit (Safari) rather than Gecko (Mozilla).

4. V8 Javascript Virtual Machine
For Chrome, Google developed their own virtual machine.

5. Tab Design
The tabs sit at the top of the browser window, thus all the controls below, including the “URL box” (Omnibox), are individual for each tab.

6. Omnibox
When you start typing into the box, it will suggest links based on what sites you have visited before or what’s popular on Google. You can enter both URLs and search terms, the latter will launch a Google search per default. You can select another search engine under >Customize and control >Options >Basics.

7. New Tab Page
When you open a new tab, it won’t be blank. New tabs show the most visited sites and the pages you search on most.

8. Incognito Surfing
When opening an incognito window, Chrome switches to privacy or read-only mode. No history or cookies will be saved.

9. Sandboxing
Chrome rigorously restricts the rights of processes running in each tab. Each tab acts as a jail within which applications can compute, but they can not write or read files outside the tab.

10. Phishing Protection
With its computing power Google collects lists of harmful websites, so it can warn its users as soon as possible in case they’re about to access such a page.

11. Open Source
All of these “inventions” are free to copy.

Benchmarks show that Chrome is considerably faster than any other popular browser on the market right now, including Firefox 3.0.1 and IE 8.0 Beta 2.

Sounds great. Now spill the beans! What about issues?
They sure exist. After the first majorly excited hype, criticism emerges from all ends.

1. Bugs
As Apple’s Safari browser, Chrome is based on Webkit. While Safari was shipped with the latest release of Webkit in June, Chrome is still using the previous version. And believe it or not, Chrome was released with a security hole that was well known and fixed in Safari months ago. Embarrassing. Did Google feel pressured to release Chrome quickly or why did that happen?

2. Security
Even though everything inside Chrome is sandboxed, scripts can be annoying. However, in Chrome there is no way to turn Java and Javascript off or allow only specific websites to use it.

3. Stability
It’s not as stable as they claim. Already, websites are poking out that prove how easily the whole browser can be crashed, like this one (don’t worry, this link can be visited safely). It’s enough to move the cursor over the demo link and the browser will crash. Scary. How is this possible? The site explains it.

But try to click the link inside Firefox, all you will see is a harmless popup explaining that Firefox doesn’t know how to open this address.

4. Extensions
They don’t exist. Yet. And personally, I find many of my Firefox extensions indispensable. Ok, I don’t expect Chrome to import them, but there needs to be compensation. At least it’s possible to restore a previous session and it doesn’t matter whether Chrome crashed or was shut down normally. There is some customization possible under >Customize and control >Options >Basics.

5. Privacy
And here we have arrived at the one issue Google is not going to fix because it’s not in their interest. The question is, how much do you care? Does it bother you that the user agreement gives them ownership to anything you create or upload through their browser? OK, apparently that part simply slipped through and will be removed.

But there is more. Each browser installation receives a unique identification number, hence single users can easily be identified. Of course Google saves all your browsing habits in order to give good recommendations. Based on that information, Google will certainly tune its ads to perfectly match your interests. Are you still not bothered or are you that ignorant?

Whoa! Ok fine, call me ignorant, but what’s your conclusion to all of this?
It’s the very first release of Chrome, it’s in beta. They will probably find many more bugs, it’s normal. And Google will try to play nice on the privacy issue. Maybe they mean it, maybe not. Nevertheless, Google did a very thorough and probably a pretty good job. The marketing and time point they chose certainly is ingenious.

But honestly, their claim that they have built a browser to make the internet a whole lot better, I don’t buy it. They have built a browser to improve the user experience within the part of the internet they are owning, at least in the long run. However, as long as Chrome remains Open Source, I’m not seriously scared that Google will become evil and limit access to their applications depending on what browser you are using, i.e. turning to the sort of tactics Microsoft is often accused of.

I found an interesting post exploring the idea that Google’s Chrome is aimed at Windows, not IE (or Mozilla). With all that is happening inside the internet at the moment, I dare to mention it again: cloud computing, may well be true.

Taken together I recommend that you try Chrome. It’s cool, it’s different, it’s fast, and you should know what others are talking about. But switching? Not yet. Maybe not ever. What do you think?

  1. elly
    December 22, 2009 at 11:51 pm

    is there a way to set a password to stop other people deleting history?

  2. Teng
    October 12, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    A virus crashed my Firefox and I was too lazy to fix it, so I switched to Chrome. It's nice, I guess. I don't like how it sets up the History page. Delete the whole day or just leave it their for others... What a friggin choice. But other than that, its fast and simple.

  3. Geordi
    October 20, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    The only bad things I can say are the sometimes saving a song from a url or the fact that when you open a new tab, you get the screen with mostly visited sites.
    I don't really like that.

  4. Amos
    September 5, 2008 at 10:32 am

    This release is still buggy - especially with Facebook applications which do not seem to work - although no error flag appears - for now i will continue with Firefox.

  5. Speedmaster
    September 5, 2008 at 10:13 am

    That was a great summary, thanks.

  6. crimson
    September 5, 2008 at 9:03 am

    Well... I'm test driving Chrome right now and I have this... tiny huge problem. I'm using the Portable edition of Chrome, I downloaded it because I have no administrative privileges on my PC and wanted to be sure I don't need to interfere with installing problems.

    I use computers with no admin privileges almost every time, at school and at home (my dad is the admin and he hates it when i bother him with apps and stuff which I don't really need). When installing Firefox I had no trouble at all, but Chrome needs the admin password to install the Adobe plugin.

    Otherwise, I like it, but I see no need for it except showing it off at school in Computer Science class :))) Mozilla Firefox 3.0.1 is enough for me right now.

  7. Z A Lot
    September 5, 2008 at 7:45 am

    Only for Windows XP and Vista? Pffff...

  8. Vali Zairov
    September 5, 2008 at 2:20 am

    This is a story how current Firefox beats new Chrome :)
    http://lifehacker.com/5044518/enable-chromes-best-features-in-firefox

    Enjoy :)

  9. Nick
    September 4, 2008 at 10:57 pm

    Yeah! YAY! for google! Its about time google came out with a browser, I knew it was going to be only matter of time. But for right now, I am going to stick with Firefox 3, Just because it has all the stuff I need and want. But Google will get there new browser all sorted out :)

    Good for google!

  10. suresh
    September 4, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    It is a very detailed review and your cartoons are very impressive.
    I tried crome it experience is good.

  11. Jer
    September 4, 2008 at 9:33 pm

    Why would anyone use anything from google?? Maybe if the guaranteed privacy....but until then, not on this guy's machine! Firefox looks better every day!!

  12. g
    September 4, 2008 at 9:11 pm

    I test drove Chrome yesterday. It definitely has it's plusses. I didnt' really notice much speed difference in loading various web pages. On of my favorite (besides the great MUO) web pages is Inhabitat. Inhabitat also is a very slow page loader for FF3. Guess what? It's also slow to load in Chrome (I didn't really notice any difference).

    Chrome definitely boots faster than ff3 from a new start. But Chrome also doesn't have to pre-load all of my favorite addons which is a necessity for me - addons that is.

    Chrome, imho is a really great start and I think it has a bright future ahead of it. I may even use it full time some day. For now, I'll stick with FF3.

    Thanks MUO for your critique. Always appreciated.

  13. Star-chan
    September 4, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    I noticed that the shockwave plugin in chrome crashes a lot. I go into this shockwave run chatroom and it crashed every 2 minutes, I had to reload (all the tabs)

    so much for individual processes. Doesn't look like that counts.

  14. JBB
    September 4, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    The privacy issue is what turned me off. I just uninstalled it. Note that there's a bunch of checkboxes for explaining why you uninstalled. "It's too slow", "It's too buggy", but not a checkbox about the privacy concerns.

    I used "other" and explained my concerns. I submitted the form. Nowhere does the form ask for contact info, and apparently they don't need to. The next page said:

    "Thank you

    Thank you for your report. We'll investigate and follow up with you if we need further information, or if we have more specific information to share."

    Uh, without my contact info? Oh, of course, you already know who I am. Why am I not surprised. "Don't be evil." Google, where evil is happily being redefined to allow their whims.

  15. Altzan
    September 4, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    I love the Google Gears option.
    The entire browser is pretty fast.
    Some bugs are expected, and privacy isn't a a huge issue: keep a different browser for private browsing like Opera or Firefox.
    In fact don't switch, use each browser for whatever you need it for.
    I personally approve of Chrome. I hope it improves with more functions and stability.

  16. Mark O'Neill
    September 4, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    I have to admit, for a first release, it's quite impressive - and fast. The real test will come when they introduce support for extensions and then we will see how fast the browser goes.

    I am inclined to keep Chrome as a basic, no frills browser for quickly checking things on the net and having Firefox as my main default browser.

  17. Charnita Fance
    September 4, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    LOL at Brandon. I tried Chrome & have been using it regularly ever since. I really like it a lot. I know it's far from perfect & has bugs, but that's to be expected for a first Beta release....... No addons, I'll live. I of course have to go back to Firefox every now & then for a few things but all-in-all I think Chrome is a hit (not miss). :)

  18. Brandon
    September 4, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    Whoa! You mean they might actually show me ads that I actually may want to see? Those bastards!

    They built a browser that can compile JavaScript so that it runs faster and is better for large scale JavaScript applications? It must be some diabolical plan.

    It has no extensions and some bugs in v0.1 Beta? OMG, lets throw it out, I will never use a browser that is not perfect on day one.

    And worst of all, you have 5 so-so temporary problems against 11 great features, the all of the critics are right, why would I ever switch to a browser that has more benefits than detriments.

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