Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Google Chrome 0.2 - Google's New Browser

A Layman's Review of Google Chrome 0.2
Or confessions of a decade old Opera user
Or here comes the "IE Killer"

Google has just released the beta version of its new browser called "Chrome". Although this release is not related to history per se or historical in nature I thought I'd jot down a few of my observations on Google Chrome because I've take to it like a fish to water, like Stalin to propaganda, like a gamer to Warcraft, like paparazzi to celebrities,like James Bond to Martini, like governments to corruption,like...

Google Chrome has been built from scratch as a browser meant to be safe, secure, stable, intuitive, fast, and fresh.

What's so different?
(and how do the differences work for me?)

Well not much and quite a lot. To look at Google Chrome is quite similar to some of the new versions of Firefox, Opera, and even IE 8.0. It uses tabs just as they do and it's layout and icons are a little reminiscent of IE 7.

However here are the differences:
1. Google Chrome places the tabs right at the top of the window, where they are easy to reach, and easy to use. It does away with the menu at the top thereby freeing up more space to display the tabs and the web page below the tab.

2. I know I just said it's not too dissimilar to the existing browsers, but yes, Google Chrome's looks are very fresh, clean, uncluttered, and purposeful.

3. Google Chrome uses a multi-process technique to run the show and this is where the greatest difference lies between Google Chrome and other browsers. Other browsers use a single thread - single process system which basically means that the browser can only run one process (in simple terms computation) at a time hence opening a page such as Facebook or Yahoo takes a long time because all the elements on the web page (such as photos, text, clickable boxes, Javascript based items, games, widgets, applications, wall, superwall etc...) are run using that one single process. This also mean that an error / crash / security breach in that process decimates the entire web page and sometimes even the user's system.

However Google Chrome changes all this by assigning each element its own process, thereby making all the elements in a web page load and run faster and also making the whole browser extremely stable and very very secure. Each text item, photo, Javascript aplication etcetera directly interacts with the CPU using its own process and hence a crash / error of one element only affects that particular process (or element) thereby insulating the rest of the web page elements (and their respective processes) and the any other web pages which maybe open from such a crash or error. Similarly any breach / compromise of security in one element does not affect the security of any of the other elements in that web page or any other web pages thereby enhancing the safety levels of the browser and the operating system. Hence fewer or almost no errors and crashes. This blog itself has many widgets and applications and Google Chrome is the only browser which manages to load everything perfectly. Refer to the comic book to understand this in greater detail. More about the comic book at the end of this review. This is not a joke.

4. Google Chrome uses superior memory management for temporary storage of web pages which allows it to avoid memory fragmentation caused by "too much web surfing" thereby enabling a lot more tabs to be used simultaneously and also reduce the "rotting away" of memory which can often make one's browser very slow after some time of heavy duty web usage. Hence the system does not slow down.

5. Google Chrome is built upon something called Gears which is essentially an an open source software. Google hopes that soon all or most of the web will be based on Gears or at least be Gears compliant as this will result in plug-ins becoming safer to use and web pages becomes more efficient at everything. You Tube, Firefox, IE 6, Google Docs, Google Reader, Picasa amongst others are already either based on Gears of Gears compliant. Opera's new version is also Gears compliant. This means the web will become a little more safe and more customised at the same time due to the open source nature of Gears.

Google Chrome's Cool Features

Some of these features are already available in Firefox, Opera, and IE. Google openly admits to being inspired by other existing browsers while determining the features for Google Chrome

Things to look out for in Google Chrome
1. Incognito Window - Google Chrome has a special window in which any link or URL can be opened which would be untraceable once closed. The user's computer and browser will have no cookies or history for the web page opened in the Incognito Window. It is the ultimate form of browser usage privacy.

2. Tab Play and Drag and Drop - Any tab can be pulled out to be opened as a separate window. Any link / image / element on a web page can be dragged onto the tab bar to be opened as a separate tab. Fast and cool, eliminates the need to right click and open in a new tab, almost Mac-like.

3. Task Manager for Browser - Google Chrome includes a task manager for browser which provides memory and CPU usage details for each web page open and for each plug-in being used. This is extemely helpful in tracking down and closing the more memory intense web pages. The End Process button works just like in the Windows's Task Manager. The task manager also provides details for other browsers which may be open at the time and further it provides ever more numbers aptly titled "Stats for Nerds". Very handy, I like it.

4. Domain Name Highlighted - The domain name part in the address bar is highlighted. May not be uselful for many but I do appreciate it.

5. Omnibox - Google Chrome calls the address bar as Omnibox. Typing any word here shows some interesting options in the drop down list; such as search results for the word, previously typed websites names featuring that word, auto complete options for that word etcetera. Make the act of browsing faster. Ripped off from Opera.

6. New Tab Window Features - In Google Chrome a new tab opened will display thumbnails of the 9 most frequently visited websites also with a list of recently closed tabs and a search function right there to search the browser's history (naturally no results will be displayed for sites browsed using the Incognito Window). Makes the browser more intuitive to the user's needs. Ripped off from Opera's Speed Dial feature.

7. Inspect Element - Most Google Chrome user would never use this feature but I'll describe it nevertheless because I do like it. Right click on any element (link, text, image, Javascript applet, button...anything) and click on inspect element. The HTML source code of the page will open and you'll be taken to the relevant code line for that element. The metrics, properties and style for the element are also displayed. This is helpful for me as I know basic HTML and often wonder about which tag has been used to create a particular element. It'll go a long in improving my knowledge of HTML and web pages. This feature is highly recommended for developers. Please note the regular view source feature is also available.

8. Web Page Shortcut - Google Chrome has an application shortcut feature which allows any web page / URL to be created as a shortcut on the computer's desktop, quick launch bar, and start menu. It's a nice feature which allows for a simple double click on the desktop to take you to the web page for which the shortcut has been created.

9. Download Manager - Google Chrome features a regular download manager, the only differences being that downloads initiated from a tab are shown in that particular tab and not in the central download window unlike in Opera and Firefox. However the central download window can be accessed using a shortuct (Ctrl+H). Closing the tab does not interrupt the download though and this is a good feature.

10. Pop Up Management - Pop ups are confined to the tabs of their origin. Clicking and dragging them out of the tab results in their being opened in a new tab. Neat.

11. Sandboxing - Google Chrome uses a process called Sandboxing to determine trust levels and permissions to various elements in web pages. Each tab gets its own sandbox. This segregation into different levels of trust allows for a more secure web experience.

12. Anti-Phishing and Malware - Google Chrome constantly updates it's list of phishing sites and uses this list to conduct verification check of all the URLs typed and opened within the browser.

13. Auto Spell Check - A simple spell check performs spell check on all text typed by the user within Google Chrome. For a natural spellings assassination pro like me this is nothing short of maana from heaven.

14. Open Source - Google Chrome is open source and hence not only can other developers learn from it and use its code for their ideas they can create customised versions of Google Chrome. This feature is Google Chrome's most exciting feature and will take this product from Google's stable far and wide. Google is banking upon the open source nature of Google Chrome and Gears to make the internet more efficient and dynamic.

15. Extensive Testing - Google Chrome has been tested for millions of web pages from a very diverse range thanks to Google's gargantuan data base of the internet. Hence Google Chrome has probably undergone the most extensive and best testing amongst all the browsers recently released.

16. Speed - Google Chrome is much faster than IE or Firefox though Opera might still beat it.

So why don't I name Google Chrome the greatest human invention, what's stopping me?

Well. Google Chrome is a great broswer but there are some shortfalls:

1. No Mouse Gestures - I've been using Opera for close to a decade now and mouse gestures have become a part of my net experience. I love using the left and right mouse button to navigate pages and links without having to push around the mouse. Google admits that in order to ensure safety mouse gestures will never be a part of Google Chrome. Sad. Sniff.

2. Lame Keyboard Shortcuts - Keyboard shortcuts are standard (Ctrl+H for history, Ctrl+T for new tab ...) but nothing close to the superior navigation experience using keyboard keys offered by Opera.

3. High CPU Usage - Because Google Chrome uses multi processes each element on each web page makes a demand individually on the CPU and these multiple origins of CPU usage put a strain on the CPU. Google Chrome will run on a 1.7GHz machine with 256 MB RAM but try running Ms Word, or Paint or along with Google Chrome and you'll see the CPU usage stats immediately shoot up. Google admits that high CPU usage is a characteristic of Google Chrome but it points out to enhanced speed, safety, stability, and security with are obtained in return. For someone like me who runs multiple applications while using the net (MS Excel with Opera with Google Earth with Corel Draw with Google Talk) this is the most major drawback of Google Chrome. I haven't yet tried to run Google Chrome and Google Earth (that other giant guzzler of CPU resource) together but I can anticipate a slow and highly constipated performance from my computer.

4. Spell Check - Well the spell check is great but then the beta version of Google Chrome doesn't allow new words to be added to the dictionary and further the dictionary is not up to date in terms of terminology and technical and corporate brand names. This results in absurdities like the very word Google showing up as a spelling error (recommended changes include goggle, googly, and go ogle :D ). I can't add Google as a word and hence till Google actually updates its dictionary the word "Google" will continue to show up as "go ogle" misspelt.

5. Plug-in errors and Misc drawbacks - Some plug-ins for Facebook, Google Analytics and other sites won't work immediately. Sometimes it does become slightly unstable under certain circumstances. :(
I have also found out that Google Chrome is not as customizable a browser as either Opera or Firefox. For eg - Google Chrome has no option to check / uncheck exit confirmation. Skins...Google Chrome does not offer any skins.

Final Word - Google Chrome a.k.a. IE Killer

Google Chrome will certainly take away most of Internet Explorer's market and hence I have no hesitation in calling it the "IE Killer". I would certainly prefer the beta version of Google Chrome over any version of IE including the recently launched IE 8.0.

If however you are a Firefox or Opera user then weaning you away from Firefox or Opera won't be too easy for Google Chrome. Subsequent versions of Google Chrome will have to come up with better navigation and tweak some other issues before Google Chrome can become your browser of choice. I know that the next version of Google Chrome might replace the special place I have accorded Opera in my heart. However having said that let me still recommend Google Chrome to you as you will find it to be more safe, more stable, and cleaner / neater than either Firefox or Opera.

I would rather use Google Chrome for online financial transactions than any other browser, no second thoughts on that, plus the Incognito Window is a clear winner. I am also very excited about the endless possibilities offered by Google Chrome's open source nature. Google Chrome handles Blogger, Flickr, You Tube etcetera way better than either of IE, Firefox, or Opera. Many pages which were opened by these browsers with errors are loaded flawlessly by Google Chrome.

If you use the net to watch movies, play games, check out live finance data, read PDF files, social network, or anything involving Javascript then surely Google Chrome is your weapon of choice.

Despite its drawbacks Google Chrome is a high quality product but some people expected a lot more from a Google product and wanted to see a "revolution" (as opposed to an "evolution") in the world of browsers. However as far as I am concerned Google has taken some very bold steps with Google Chrome and these should not only leave behind an indelible mark on the browser industry but even change the way we think about browsers themselves.

Now about the comic book. Google has prepared a great comic book to explain everything about Google Chrome and I recommend those interested to take a look at it here. The comic itself is quite enjoyable and an lesson is instructional design.

You can download Google Chrome from here.

Please do let me know about your user experience of Google Chrome.
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