Google Chrome – the browser’s first month and it’s future
written by craig, 8 October 2008
Google Chrome is the latest browser to enter an increasingly crowded market place. Windows users can now choose between IE, Firefox, Opera, Safari, Chrome and dozens of other browsers or offshoot projects like Flock.
It was no secret that a Google-branded browser was likely. Google and Mozilla have been working closely with each other, so most people expected a Firefox-based product. That would have been the easiest option for Google but, they’re not short of cash and surprised everyone by releasing their own browser in August 2008.
Chrome is not revolutionary, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. By coming to the market this late, Google were able to copy the best features from all the browsers and amalgamate them into one product.
The interface is clean and minimalistic. On startup, you’re presented with a single browsing tab and a handful of icons. The default start page is similar to Opera’s speed dial, but shows the sites you’ve visited recently with a handy screenshot. There are no menus, status bars, fancy widgets or anything else to distract you from browsing the web.
Google’s main goal was to make the browser fast and stable. It uses the Webkit HTML rendering engine, which is also implemented in Safari and Konqueror. Webkit is a good choice; the engine is mature and is unlikely to throw up too many surprises.
For stability, Chrome goes further than most other browsers and treats every tab as a separate process. The theory is that a single tab crashing won’t bring down all the other tabs you’ve opened. Whether this actually succeeds remains to be seen, but it sounds promising.
The main drawback with separate processes is the memory overhead. In practice, each tab uses at least 20-30MB in Windows XP. That won’t be a problem for most users but, if you’re like me, you may have problems opening dozens of tabs when trawling RSS feeds.
The final well-promoted feature is “incognito” (dubbed ‘porn’!) mode. This provides completely anonymous browsing that will not record page history, store cookies, etc. If you’re paranoid about surfing the web, it could be for you!
The only strange thing I encountered with Chrome is the installer. Rather than installing to the Program Files folder, it uses an application data folder. I’m sure Google have good reasons for doing that – perhaps so the application and it’s data could go in one location? But it’s a little odd and I think Google should really adhere to normal Windows standards whether they like them or not.
Other than that, the browser is a pleasure to use. It starts quickly, is easy, and never gets in the way. I experienced a few minor quirks with complex sites (ironically, it was Google Docs), but nothing major.
The main criticisms of Chrome come from the web development community:
- Chrome nothing special or particularly fast compared to other browsers
I’d agree with that; it’s just another browser. However, more competition in the browser market is a good thing. I’d hate to return to the days where only one company and one browser rules supreme and dictates the direction of the web.
- It’s yet another browser to test against.
If you adhering to web standards and best-practice techniques, Chrome won’t cause too many problems. In fact, Google is now recommending web standards (although that page throws 200 validation errors!)
Since Chrome’s using Webkit, most of the issues you encounter are likely to affect Safari too … and you already testing that, aren’t you?
- Chrome doesn’t have extensions or widgets.
In my opinion, Google should not implement extensions in Chrome.
Google may have good intentions regarding their browser but, underlying all the pretence, they have one objective: to take on Microsoft and Internet Explorer. Although Microsoft is improving IE, the browser continues to hold back web development and has a strong influence on what’s possible on the web.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of users stick with IE because it’s on their PC and they don’t have the knowledge, ability, or inclination to switch. Whatever your opinions of the browser, it works for many people and they’ll rarely experience problems. It is those users that Google needs to target.
Extensions and widgets are installed by power users. If you use them, you’re probably using Firefox or Opera already. Extensions in Chrome may encourage you to switch, but you’re not in Google’s target demographic. On the contrary, even if extensions have no effect on the browser’s stability and speed, they will make Chrome more complex to use. That’s hardly likely to attract die-hard IE users.
Google will not let Chrome fail and W3Schools recorded 3.1% usage in Chrome’s first month. That is huge, and it appears to have taken a small proportion of users from IE6, IE7 and Firefox. In reality, W3Schools is a developer site and I suspect much the Chrome traffic is curious developers testing the browser.
So would I use Chrome? I might be tempted for a little quick and dirty browsing, but I won’t be switching from Firefox. But I’m a web developer and Chrome isn’t aimed at me. However, I’d would certainly recommend Chrome – especially to novice PC users.
Google – if you’re listening – here’s my suggestions…
- Change the browser name
Chrome is very clever and all that, but it means nothing to most users. Call it “Google Internet” or “GInternet” and get the icon on to user’s desktops.
- Promote Chrome everywhere
Assuming Chrome reaches v1.0, it should be publicised on Google.com, YouTube, and everywhere else. I’m willing to advertise it here for a small negotiable fee!
- Do licencing deals with PC manufacturers
The easiest way to achieve mass-market penetration is if user’s don’t need to install Chrome and it’s on their desktop from day 1.
I suspect Dell is a done deal (they already offer the Google sidebar in preference to Vista’s one), but a similar arrangement with Compaq and HP (who’ll put anything on their PC’s for a few pennies) could make a significant difference to the Chrome’s market share.
What do you think? All comments welcome…