Google Chrome – A New Chapter in Browser History?

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?

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