Okay, I give in – My take on Google Chrome

I’ve resisted up until now, but I can’t hold it in any more. I feel like the odd one out. The only person not shouting about Google Chrome. Even my mates where talking it up down the local watering hole. They’re usually my break from internet-related topics!

I’ve been a FireFox user since version 0.8 when it was still called Firebird. Before that I even used Mozilla for a time. We’ve fallen out occasionally but I still love it’s speed and all those countless little features that make browsing so much more efficient; like saving tabs when you exit, a more usable web history search from the address bar, quicker bookmarking and a host of others.

I have to admit though, of late, I’ve been frustrated with how clunky it can be. I know it’s because I have a fair few add-ons installed but I keep them down to only those that I use day in, day out. I tried Apple’s Safari for a time, which was great because it was so fast but I simple couldn’t live without those little touches and the add-ons.

I’ve also tried out Prism, Mozilla’s answer to the growing trend of web-based applications moving us away from the desktop. Prism aimed to give us a desktop application-like way of using web applications. It just didn’t live up to expectations, though. The functionality was very basic and some simple settings (of the few available) just didn’t work.

Reading through Google’s own buzz about Chrome (I only ever listen to the horse until after I’ve tried something out for myself) I have to admit, I wasn’t that excited. It sounded like just another browser with a couple more features; nothing special. It claimed to handled web apps that like to crash the browser (something Firefox definitely suffers from) well and touted a special way to handle your favourite web apps. None of the language really jumped out at me though. Maybe I’m just too cynical.

The install was quick and I was off on my way in no time. I checked out some of the documentation and quickly found out how to create desktop ‘apps’ from my favourite web apps like Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Reader (yes I’m a Googaphobe) and got cracking.

The first thing I noticed was speed – it’s a huge improvement. Even over Safari which scared me ’cause it seemed to pre-empt my actions and do it for me. Handling complex apps like Gmail seemed to be a breeze for Chrome and I had one of those rare moments where I want to play around with something just ’cause it feels fun. (The last time that happened was when I got my Nokia N95 and figured out I could use GPS with Google Maps!)

I was impressed so I made it my default browser and decided to get on with my day just like any other. Chrome lasted a good few hours, which is less than Safari. Which is not to say Safari is a better browser, I don’t believe it is. I just knew what to look for with Chrome more so than I did with Safari.

The main problems I had with Chrome were (in no particular order);

  • Lack of page titles from web history when typing in the address bar
    This is a feature I love about Firefox. Often, you can’t remember the web address but by using keywords that were in the title you can find that site you visited yesterday with ease. It’s become a must-have feature for me now and Chrome needs it.
  • Bookmarks manager. I couldn’t actually figure out any way to even see my bookmarks within Chrome, let alone manage them. Plus, Chrome seemed to lack an ‘unfiled’ bookmarks folder and instead asked you to choose where to put bookmarks as soon as you add them. I like being able to quickly bookmark something and then return to my unfiled bookmarks to organise them all in one big block. This way my train of thought isn’t broken while I’m browsing and I can be more productive.
  • Re-opening closed tabs. The ‘new tab’ feature is really nice, but it should be much easier to re-open tabs you’ve just closed.
  • Exiting with multiple tabs open. It’s all too easy to close the browser by accident when you have several tabs open. Firefox has had a simple yet effective system for circumventing this for ages and Google have really shot themselves in the foot by not even incorporating a basic safeguard in this respect.
  • Opening ‘apps’ from within the browser. If I create a ‘desktop app’ using Chrome I expect that app to open if I access it through the normal web browser. For example, if I click on an “Add to Google” button for a blog’s feed I expect Chrome to open up the ‘Google Reader app’ that I created, not simple navigate to Reader in the normal browser window. Otherwise, what’s the point in having separate apps? I may as well just use them within the browser as normal.
  • Options. There are little to no options for Chrome which means that you can’t make the browsing experience your own. I’m a huge advocate of flexibility and choice. The more choice a user has, the happier they can make their user experience. The more you restrict them, the more they feel pigeon-holed and eventually loose faith.
  • Page loading visuals. I kept having to ask myself, “is it doing anything?” Chrome lacks good visual indication that a page is loading, or how much it has loaded. That will be a huge problem for the masses. Average Joe and Jane have trouble with IE, they certainly don’t need a browser that’s even more inconspicuous.
  • Add-ons. I can’t live without them. I use the web developer extension a LOT. I use the delicious extension plenty, as well as others. In fact, if Chrome had all my favourite Firefox add-ons I might just switch straight away.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Like I said, I was impressed, and here’s why;

  • Speed. Yep, it’s like lightning. It’s almost as if it’s reading your mind. Scary!
  • Easy on resources. Firefox gobbles up my pitiful 1.5Gb memory like a Leech. Chrome didn’t bat an eyelid when I had Gmail, Reader, Calendar, Maps, Remember The Milk, WordPress Admin and a couple of blogs open all at the same time.
  • Interface. It’s really clean and minimalistic. No clutter whatsoever. In Firefox, I often use the Web Developer toolbar but I always hide it when I don’t need it ’cause I can’t stand having a big chunk of browser above the web page. It’s just unnecessary.
  • ‘Desktop apps.’ I don’t really know what to call them. I guess they are like desktop apps. They work better than Prism, anyway, which seemed to get confused about whether to open links within itself or in the web browser. It helps to separate those common apps, like e-mail from your general work. I do a lot of browsing and often have a good number of tabs open and find that extra tab for e-mail or calendar gets in the way. Chrome solves that problem well.
  • Searching from the address bar (WHATS THE WORD?!). I LOVE this. I’ve loved this ever since it arrived in Firefox. If I had a pound for everytime I’ve hit F6 and just started typing I’d have brought a house by now.

So there are things I love and things I don’t love but overall Chrome, for me, is a stellar browser. Google have outdone their competitors on plenty of fronts once again. It’ll be interesting to see whether Firefox’s new version can compete on speed with Chrome’s “V8” Javascript engine.

For now, I’ll just be using Chrome to separate my favourite web apps from my normal browser experience. That might get a bit annoying as any web links will open in Chrome, not the default web browser (Firefox) but I’ll cope until they fix that (ha!), but I’ll give it a go.

2 thoughts on “Okay, I give in – My take on Google Chrome”

  1. Is this going to be based on the Mozilla engine? So it will work well like Firefox & Safari? Or is this going to be a nightmare for Developers giving us a 4th major player to test all of our sites in??I'm a huge fan of Firefox, but always looking for more. I will be staying up late tonight to see when the beta is released, and test it out, and blog it's features.I'm just scared though of the day that google decides to hit the “take over the world” switch and we are all turned into google-zombies.

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