Google Chrome: Finally, a Browser for the 21st Century

Wednesday Sep 3rd 2008 by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
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Google’s new browser has a few strange features (like its user agreement) but overall it’s lifting the bar for browser performance.

Google’s entry into the browser market was unusual to say the least. On Monday, while many in the U.S. were enjoying a well-deserved day off, Philipp Lenssen, a German blogger running Google Blogoscoped, received a package from Google containing a 38-page comic book.

This was no usual comic book, though. It outlined the features of a new addition to the Google empire – a Web browser called Chrome. Thanks to Google employees not being aware of how international shipping works, Lenssen got the upper hand on this story and broke it to the rest of the world.

Yesterday we were all given the opportunity to see this new browser for ourselves when Google made the beta available to all. (And if you’ve not done so yet, download Chrome.)

So, what’s the deal with Google Chrome?

Well, I’m going to start off by coming right out with the hyperbole: The release of Google Chrome will have a significant effect on the browser landscape over the coming months and years.

It doesn’t matter whether you use Google Chrome or Firefox, Opera, Safari or even Internet Explorer (you’re not still using IE as your default browser are you? Shame on you if you are! :-) ). Whatever the case, you’ll see significant changes in the way you browse the Web as a result of Google’s new beta browser.

By shipping a beta of Chrome, Google has at a single stroke shown the other players in the browser game how to create a fast, lightweight, easy-to-use browser – something that the likes of Microsoft has been working on for years and not even come within arm’s reach of. Early data from Web metrics company NetApplications suggests that Google Chrome took only a few hours to grab a 1 per cent browser market share, exceeding the market share that took Opera years to achieve.

OK, so what is it that makes Google Chrome so special? Well, let’s begin by looking at the interface. Take a look at this:

Google Chrome browser

Notice how little clutter there is? There’s a tab strip at the top, there’s a few buttons on the toolbar (I count seven) and there’s a multi-purpose address/search bar called an Omnibox. That’s it.

There’s no menu bar (although two of the buttons do pop out menus, one relating to the current page, the other relating to the browser itself). There’s no status bar and there are no sliding panes or other such clutter. The Google Chrome interface puts the focus on what’s important – the content of the web page you are visiting. What a novel idea!

Walt Mossberg doesn’t sound like he’s too thrilled about Chrome not having a way to manage bookmarks, a method for emailing links and a progress bar to show you the progress of the page loading.

Hmmm, how many people are really making use of browser features such as bookmarks? I certainly don’t use bookmarks anywhere near as much as I was doing a few years ago. I have set sites that I visit regularly and the rest I find using a search engine. As for emailing links and progress bars, these do little more than add to the UI bloat of modern browsers.

Google Chrome browser

However, there’s a lot more to Google Chrome than just a minimalistic user interface. First off, Google has reinvented the browser tabs.

Browser tabs have been with us for some time now but Chrome not only makes them draggable (in that you can drag them out from one instance of Google Chrome to create another instance, and then drag them into another instance of the browser) but tabs also run in separate processes.

Why is having the tabs running in separate process important? Well, because it allows each tab to be kept separate from other tabs so a resource hogging (or buggy) Web page in one tab won’t have a detrimental effect on other tabs that are running.

You can even have one tab lock up completely, or even crash, and your other tabs should carry on working normally (I’ve tested this feature and found it to be very reliable indeed). Running tabs (as well as plugins) in separate processes also brings with it added security as the web pages contained in the separate tabs are isolated from one another.

Another aspect of Google Chrome that raises the bar for other browsers is the speed of the JavaScript V8 processor. This new engine treats JavaScript as compiled code rather than interpreting it – which has boosts performance significantly. Testing carried out using the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark and Google’s own V8 benchmark clearly show that Google Chrome is faster than the other major browsers (and significantly faster than Internet Explorer 7, which compared to Chrome is a lumbering dinosaur). Since more of the web is build on the back of JavaScript, anything that makes that faster makes the end user’s experience much better.

Google Chrome browser

Google Chrome browser

Google Chrome isn’t without its flaws. A couple of security issues have come to the surface since it was released yesterday, and there are some concerns over the End User License Agreement (EULA), but overall Google Chrome brings with it far more positive points than negative ones.

Is Google Chrome my default browser? No, not yet it’s not, but I’ve been surprised just how much I’ve been using it today, especially in circumstances where I need to juggle dozens of different Web pages spread across different tabs and different instances of the browser. Now the way I see it, it doesn’t matter which browser is my default browser, Google Chrome has raised the bar in terms of performance, reliability and ease of use and this will rub off on the other browsers.

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