Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Google Chrome - Another Missed Opporunity?

Google released their very own Web Browser today, September 2, 2008.

Google Chrome is the name. Not quite sure how the word "chrome" fits in with the title but unlike the visions of shiny chrome that may come to mind, Google Chrome still needs some buffing around the edges.

The concept of Google Chrome is very novel and a long time coming. We have seen the focus on speed from browsers like Firefox 3 and Opera but no browser has focussed specifically on Web 2.0 Application Technologies such as those used in Google Apps, Digg or the like.

As anyone knows from trying to surf heavy JavaScript (i.e. Web 2.0) web sites on an iPhone or iTouch, Safari will go down faster than Sarah Palin's daughter. Heavy JavaScript laden web sites tend to choke web browsers. Fortunately, Firefox has made great strides in improving the user's experience with such sites and they have worked hard at handling multiple Browser Tabs but their approach may not be the best.

This is where the concept behind Google Chrome paths the way for a better browser.

You can read more about these concepts here.

Google is attempting to give the user a web browser that is fully cognizant of process threading, process encapsulation and a level of system error handling that is usually expected with an Operating System but not really talked about in terms of a Web Browser.

Web Browsers such as Firefox and Internet Explorer still make use of a single process thread for all browser Tabs but as we have seen with Firefox 3, they have managed to reduce Memory Load with their latest efforts.

When you run Chrome you will find a new process instance of "Chrome.exe" for every Tab you have open. The nice thing about this concept is that if one Tab is behaving badly it doesn't take the whole browser down. As the system is still new, this hasn't truly been the case but is a good goal.

Let's take a look at Google Chrome:

As you can see by the User Interface, it doesn't follow a traditional "Windows" UI. It doesn't make use of the Operating System Window "frame" which makes me wonder how it will look on Linux and Mac OS X. It has the standard "windows" like Minimize, Maximize and Close buttons in the top-right. I'm not sure if this will be the same on all flavors of Linux and their multiple window layout managers or Mac OS X. Utilizing the same UI across each Operating System would make sense in one respect but there is such a thing as "fitting in" and while Chrome does look decent on Windows, it would stick out like a sore thumb on Mac OS X with this UI.

You may have noticed the Tabs at the top of the browser. Yes, they are above the "address bar" thus signifying that each tab is it's own "browser window". Most other Tabbed Browsers have the tabs listed below the "address bar" but oddly enough, the contents of the "address bar" change as you switch between tabs. This is a welcome change and it fosters the idea that a Tab is a browser process instance in itself and not just a different "tab". Each "tab" is specific to its contents as you would expect.

Overall, the layout of the Chrome UI is clean and simple, just as you would expect from Google. However, it does leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. Firefox users are used to being pampered with all kinds of FREE Addo-ons (Extensions) while IE has some of its own but Firefox rules the roost there. Oddly enough, Google Chrome doesn't have any Addo-on capabilities with this release.

A really odd thing I have noticed with Chrome is that Google didn't even try to build in the best features of their popular "Google Toolbar".

One feature I really can't live without is Google Bookmarks. I have been using that for years and when I was testing the beta releases of Firefox 3 I felt naked not having Google Toolbar and settled for less than adequate 3rd party Google Bookmarks addons but was exited when Google finally updated their Toolbar. Upon first launch of Google Chrome I just knew I would be asked if I wanted to use Google Bookmarks but alas no. Instead, I was given the ability to import Firefox or Internet Explorer Bookmarks but no Google Bookmarks integration.

For me, this was a big let down and I personally feel it is a missed opportunity for Google.

With that said though, I myself have noticed that while I love Google Bookmarks that that Application doesn't tend to get the love it deserves from Google. In fact, with the last iteration of Google Notebook they failed miserably at integrating Google Bookmarks into Notebook. They did it in a way that makes it seem as if they view Bookmarks as "unfiled notes" which really takes away from the "bookmarks" concept.

I'm not sure if Google is up in the air about the "bookmarks" concept but I still believe this was a missed opportunity.

You may notice in my screenshot that there are icons across the top for Gmail, Google Reader and other Google Apps. Those are just bookmarks imported from Firefox, don't get your hopes up. There is absolutely no integration with any other Google Application within Chrome. Very sad indeed.

I wouldn't want anyone to come away from this article thinking that Google Chrome is no good or that I hate it or something. It is a decent enough browser and does illustrate some new concepts but so far it isn't the pedigree you would expect from Google.

I have read posts on Digg and other sites that Chrome is super FAST. This is just not true. Yes, in some cases it can be fast but so can Firefox. I have tried all of the Google Apps and Digg with Chrome and so far I haven't seen huge increases in speed. Some yes, but nothing to write home about yet.

Google Chrome is definitely something to keep an eye on but so far I would say it is a niche market application and won't be replacing anyone's default browser for now.... especially if you are a Firefox user.

I invite you to give it a try. Take it for a spin and see for yourself.

One word of warning though, WebSense does currently log any and all downloadable Google Applications as "freeware" and thus will block the Google Chrome download at most places of business using WebSense.

Another word of caution is installing on Vista or Server 2008. Most Install Applications these days are "Vista ready" and will notify you when Administrator rights are needed but not Google Chrome. You will get an error during the install even if you are a user within the Admin role. You will need to right-click and select "Run as Administrator" to install Chrome.

Read more about Google Chrome here and download it here.

There are tons of videos here to get you started but be warned they are through YouTube which is typically blocked in most places of business.

Give it a spin, kick the tires and let me know what you think. Don't forget to visit the Google Chrome Help Discussion Group via Google Groups to get help and to help out Google and your other fellow users.

And by the way, this article was authored through the Blogger Web Site using Chrome.  And interesting thing to note, upon first login to Blogger, I was presented with an Error message which stated that my browser didn't support JavaScript or Cookies.  Go figure :)


Kevin said...

Just a quick update to let everyone know that I have tried installing Google Chrome at work behind the WebSense Firewall and it works just fine but don't expect auto-updates to work as I have not seen that to work with other Google Windows Apps (Desktop, Chat, Gmail Notifier, etc).

Kevin said...

Wow, that was fast! A fan based discussion site has already been setup: http://chromespot.com

Kevin said...

I'm recording my experience with Google Chrome on Twitter. Check out my Tweets on Chrome or subscribe to the feed