Chrome: First Impressions

Last night I downloaded and played with Google Chrome. What follows are my first impressions about the browser as a whole and some of the specific features.

At home I am currently using Firefox 3 (FF3) and Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) with a bias towards FF3. At work I use IE7 exclusively. My opinions and impressions are based on my usage of the browsers above and I don't use any other browser currently.

The first thing I noticed is that the position of certain UI elements is different than what I am used to with FF3 and IE7. Chrome uses a tabbed interface, but the tabs are at the top of the window right below the title bar. There is no visible menu bar or toolbar in the Chrome UI. There is only a few command buttons embedded in the address bar.

According to what I read about Chrome , Google aimed for minimalism in the Chrome UI and for that they should receive an A+. This doesn't mean that I am for or against minimalism in web browser UI. It just means that I think they achieved their goal.

The next thing I noticed is that it lacks a status bar and, as a matter of fact, the status bar is completely gone. I am addicted to my status bar in IE7 and FF3, because I constantly look at it to know the status of page load and for other queues that it provides. The fact is that, at least so far, Chrome doesn't need a status bar. At the time of this writing I've been using Chrome for a couple of hours and I have not once felt the urge to look at the status bar to know where I am at with the download of a page. The truth is that Chrome downloads and renders web pages visibily faster than both IE7 and FF3. There is an interesting article about Chrome performance at Life Hacker

Although Chrome is a minimal browser, it's not completely devoid of features. On the very far right side of the address bar there are two buttons which bring up menus that allow you to get to these features. The first button brings up the page menu and it contains the expected page related commands such as copy, cut, paste and find. But it also has a few commands that are unique to Chrome: Create Application Shortcut and a Developer submenu.

Chrome Tools & Tabs

Chrome Tools & Tabs

The Create Application Shortcut command is great feature. How it works is you surf to web application that you like (e.g. Gmail) and then click on the Create Application Shortcut menu item and then Chrome asks you where you want to save a shortcut to the application. Once the shortcut is created you can just double-click it and it will launch the web app you chose inside a Chrome window. To be fair, this is not a novel feature and it has been done before by others with different names and formats. But this feature really says a lot about Google's intentions: The browser and the Internet are the application platform and Operating Systems as such are obsolete.

Before I discuss the Developer menu features, let me talk about the Tool menu briefly, which is the other button on the far right side of the address bar. This is where you can access your bookmarks (you can also use the Ctrl+B shortcut to view the bookmark bar), history, downloads, and the borser options dialog. There isn't anything earth shattering about these features or the browser options.

Now back in the page button, the Developer menu has commands that allow you to view a web page's source as well as access to a JavaScript debugger and console. The debugger window is pretty standard and allows you to set breakpoints and print output to the debug window.

The console, however, is more like a DOM inspector that allows you to inject JavaScript commands into the web page on the fly. It looks pretty cool, but I have only played with it a little bit at the time of writing this. The console window seems to be pretty heavy on the CPU load, though.

This next feature is great and it set me on a path to find more gems like it, which I did and list them all a little later. I am talking about the Task Manager dialog. Chrome runs a different process for each tab, which allows it to isolate the memory space used by each tab, which then isolates any crashes to said tab. In the task manager you can view (and kill) any of the Chrome processes.

But if you look at the bottom left corner of the Task Manager dialog, you will find a Stats for Nerds link. This link will take you to the Memory Usage page (about:memory) and it lists the memory usage for each one of your Chrome processes as well as your IE7 and FF3 processes for quick and easy comparison. This is a masterful move by Google: give the early adopters and power users the tools they need to look at the data and make up their own minds about which browser is technically superior.

Chrome Memory Usage

Chrome Memory Usage

There are other gems under the about: URL Scheme. A couple of notable ones are about:plugins and about:cache. There are also a few about: URLs that are Chrome specific: about:DNS lists the cached DNS recors; about:network gives stats and a monitoring interface for network usage (not unlike the HTTP protocol inspector tools such as HTTPWatch ); and about:stats displays several process statistics. There is even a cool easter egg at about:internets (check out the title of that page).

There is also lot of buzz generated around Chrome and most of it is great, but there were also some questions raised around some of the terms of the Chrome EULA. This has been cleared up and Google will be changing the license terms.

All in all, I think Chrome is a fresh and nice shift in browser technology, but at the same time Chrome is not an earth shattering paradigm shift. I am mildly impressed with it and will be watching closely to see where it goes. I will continue to use it for the time being.


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