Hurrah. The ECS network is now behaving enough that I can post this and the images might work.
Hokay. First up, all I'm going to say about the general 'buzz' is to link to this. Second up, the answer to "what is Google's super-secret evil scheme behind this", given that free love is hardly a business case, is probably economics. Web application shortcuts would seem to support that idea. Thirdly, I'm not going to talk performance. I ran this (and the other browsers mentioned: Opera 9.52, Firefox 3.0.1, and IE 7.0) under a QEMU WinXP VM, so speed fluctuated with host load, and is skewed by slow memory access.
Right. Let's talk software criticism.
It's based on WebKit: good. I like WebKit; it's engineered well, and that shows. The stuff they're doing with SquirrelFish is seriously cool, and it's not surprising to see that now being pitted against V8 (and Opera 9.5's new JS engine). I've actually used the WebKitGtk test stub as a browser on my old Linux box because it runs better than Firefox, and Opera wasn't installed yet (because it's never in distro repositories, because it's not Stallman-compliant).
Installation doesn't give you any control over install location, and it turns out that location it picks is under your home area, which is unpleasantly perverse (and presumably trying to bypass the need for root).
Specifically, it seems to have picked
%HOMEDRIVE%%HOMEPATH%\Local Settings\Application Data\Google\Chrome\Application\.
You also seem to get "Google Update" quietly alongside it, which shows up in Task Manager when it feels like it.
80-odd megabytes of binaries in a folder that, unless I'm mistaken, is intended for configuration, and which is certainly per-user, isn't a great start.
(Opera and Firefox—9.52 and 3.0.1—are both small (35 and, in a reversal from years ago, 22), and go in
Program Files by default.)
The first thing it does when launched is try to scream that one of the Web's most prominent services launching a web client isn't at all anti-competitive:
Would you rather have Yahoo! Chrome?
As is typical for web browsers these days, it looks nothing like a normal application on its host OS, because people apparently yearn for the inconsistent UI nightmares of the DOS era. Note the Vista window decoration metrics on an XP VM. Chrome at least does something with this, as incognito mode tries to make itself obvious with the visual hinting of a darker border:
A dude in a trenchcoat is only going to make people think of "sleazy porn mode" even more.
It's an interesting idea (which IE8 is going to try too), and beats the "close browser either side" flush-out approach that I use with Opera. (Surprise gifts? How about "don't prompt me to save my e-banking login, and don't remember my bank's domain to enforce that either"?)
Oh, and about the "special" upside-down tabs: Opera has been doing it that way around for yeeeeears. It's you young Firefoxian whippersnappers who got it upside-down, by forgetting that the address bar and navigation buttons depend on the context of the current tab, and should thus be inside it. ("Tabs" are actually a horrible release, and need to be an OS feature to ever not suck, but that's a rant for another time.)
Being able to drag them about isn't new, either (although hard to screenshot in Chrome); here's Opera doing it:
Of course, learning tricks from your peers is admirable, as it counters the "every browser lacks killer feature X in this other browser" syndrome. It's only bad if you claim "new innovation" while doing it.
Flick all the pretty switches
Tangent over. Being a compulsive tinkerer, my first move is actually into the preferences:
No, that's not some weird compression artifact: it's a "metal" texture. Obviously, the Windows build needs OS X styling elements, right?
They get bonus points for not (unlike Firefox) having a default-enabled "check if default browser is ME ME ME every startup", which is a hateful, malware-ish relic of the Netscape-era browser wars. A button to launch the OS-centralised default program selection (Windows: "Program Access and Defaults"; OS X: Safari preferences (thanks for outdoing Microsoft again, Apple); GNOME: "Preferred Applications") would be better, but this solution still beats most others.
The other preferences aren't that interesting (except that the third tab has a scrollable view in a non-resizable window, which is terrible design, but about what you can expect from the Windows world when the UI toolkit is still based entirely on static layout). They're pleasingly minimal, leaving out settings which the browser (or OS) should be dealing with, not the user, such as character encodings and proxies. Unlike Opera and Firefox, they don't have nested tabs. Hurrah.
It has an irritating, presumably anti-phishing, habit of highlighting the domain at the expense of the rest of the URL. What makes this particularly annoying is that it does it even while you're trying to edit the address bar:
Don't make that grey-on-white; I'm trying to see it.
Despite making a bit of a fuss about it being an "omnibar", the address bar doesn't seem to do anything that Opera or Firefox haven't already done for a while:
Note that Chrome has fetched a guessed domain summary (From Google? Direct from site?); Opera shows why Wikipedia has matched (full body text search).
In fact, Opera's is more powerful, as you can use prefixes to invoke other search engines; for example, if I go to
cd gray, it's set up to look it up in the Cambridge online dictionary (which tells me off for being American).
Theoretically, Chrome's bar is supposed to automatically detect and scrape search boxes from websites, allowing you to use them from the address bar, but I couldn't make this work on Wikipedia or Cambridge dictionary. Amazon did work, but this feature is going to be a bit of a damp squib if it only works on a small subset of sites.
I can see this being useful if only I could search for meats on other websites.
Bookmarking is straightforward—click the star:
I use enough different browsers and machines that this is my only bookmark, and usually just a home page.
In this case, they've cherry-picked from Firefox, by the looks of it. The difference is that it appears first time, whereas the FF one requires a second click, and you then probably have to interact with it because the defaults are stupid:
Don't hide it in a damn subfolder.
History support is somewhat simplistic, compared to Opera:
Reminds me of Netscape 4.
Deleting a history entry I searched for by body text.
I appreciate that it's probably intended that you use Incognito mode to avoid gaining unwanted history in the first place, but Opera's really handy in that you can zap things from autocomplete memory if they turned out to unexpectedly contain, say, Rick Astley.
I'll take Google's word for it that they actually block popups, as the only site I can think of that uses them, is LiveJournal's preview, and they let that through:
I got dragged into an Apple Store the other day.
It has a little address bar, presumably to show you the originating site and help avoid phishing. I have to say, this is another area where Opera does it better, giving you a minimal indicator of origin that turns into a full address bar when clicked:
It was terrifying. Nobody there had beards.
Downloads are again simplistic, and pretty much exactly as with Firefox, except that they put the list in a tab, not a dialogue. Starting one shows a gigantic animated arrow, presumably as an affordance to indicate that the link you clicked isn't about to load a new page, and displays it in a bar at the bottom of the window.
This would all be slickly animated if not running in a slow VM. Or a screenshot.
Thumping "Show all downloads..." presents you with the Downloads tab, with the same background-pie-chart icon, and other usual suspects.
"Pause" and "Cancel" are actions, not navigations. They should be buttons, not links.
Once finished, the statistics go away (including size), and you're left with a "Show in folder" link, which fires up Explorer. Meanwhile, the bar in the originating tab has changed to have a pop-up menu with the options to open it, always open that type, and show the folder.
Now. I'd love to say that Opera does this better, but spot the difference:
Opera 9.52, the current version.
Opera 9.02 (under Windows 95).
Opera used to give you a full-blooded filer context menu which, given that antivirus programs like to add a "Scan with..." there, was incredibly useful. Unfortunately, they've thrown this out. With luck, the Chrome devs will adopt it.
The status bar is a transient little tooltip-alike, lurking over the horizontal scroll bar. As someone who usually spends the first five minutes in a browser reconfiguring the UI to not have ten thousand full-width, mostly-empty horizontal bars, I approve.
It fades to nothing if you go to scroll.
The ability to undo closing a tab is something Opera gained back in version 7 or so, and something they've been steadily breaking since. Firefox recently picked it up, and I'm glad to say that Chrome has picked it up and done it better. While lacking a quick keyboard gesture (Opera used to have Ctrl-Alt-Z), you can get at recently closed tabs from the "new tab" screen, and despite the comic's claims that closing tabs throws away their state, they actually preserve it better than Opera these days, which loses this text:
Lah lah lah, I am composing a witty retort to someone who is wrong on the INTERNET.
(Isn't that tooltip redundant?)
Phew, my carefully-prepared stream of invective of is intact.
Secure sites get a pretty standard little padlock icon, and the address bar yellows, as with Firefox 2 (oddly, FF3 seems to have gone for giving the favicon a blue background instead, which is nowhere near obvious or intuitive enough for my liking). Clicking it gives a breakdown of the security, and a incongruously unskinned certificate inspection window.
It takes a bit of digging to get to the organisation the certificate is owned by.
Continuing the bittersweet Opera theme, Opera has a nice touch of displaying the certificate owner in its address bar gubbins; this is countered by it now declaring that some sites are insecure for nonspecific reasons.
Showing certificate owner: good. Vague, rambling prose: bad.
The ability to create "web apps" without the border is pretty uninteresting, really. It basically creates a shortcut which launches a website:
16x16 favicons do not pretty desktop icons make.
The navigation controls take refuge behind the system icon.
The mechanics of this are a shortcut which launches
If Outlook Express can be tricked into launching it, the lack of the address bar is going to make some phishers quite happy indeed.
I can see that Google would consider the idea of Google Docs being in your start menu next to Microsoft Office quite appealing, but I don't think this is actually a good idea.
The source view is pretty nice, with syntax highlighting, and some neat use of hyperlinks to chase down stylesheets and the like:
(We'll get to what this page does later.)
Unlike Opera, you can't edit this source and have it affect the version being displayed, which is very useful for cutting off unwanted lumps of a page before printing it (with the significant downside that the kind of people who didn't set up CSS
Chrome has its own task manager, which only shows its own processes. The inclusion of network traffic is a nice touch, because OS tools tend to fall short there.
It's also less ambiguous than ten instances of
The "stats for nerds" link leads to
about:memory, which is covered in numbers.
It rather cheekily includes values from other browsers it recognises, so here it is with each browser freshly started, showing the Acid 3 test, and one other 'system' tab.
Mousing over a question mark provides an explanatory tooltip.
I wouldn't read anything into those numbers, because they're not even vaguely scientific—no repeats, no particular control of memory caching, and no consideration of constant vs. per-tab/over-time costs. Also, IE may not have even finished running Acid3; it had made a mess of itself and was still spiking the CPU after a minute, so I gave up waiting.
Well, it still beats Firefox.
There's a resource inspector, but, um:
Ah, beta. Right. Moving on, then.
Where do you want to go today?
By this point, the "new tab" launchpad is populated.
It loads quickly enough not to annoy.
It's sort of Opera's Speed Dial, combined with it's automatic Top Ten bookmarks and Recently Closed Tabs (appears under "Recent bookmarks"; see above). I have to say I hate Speed Dial in Opera, if only because it uses a touch-tone phone metaphor, then doesn't let me "dial" websites by number key. Also, you have to set it up manually, and rather than pick arbitrarily few (nine) sites, I just have a links webpage.
So far, though, I'm liking this. It's one of the buggier parts of the beta; "About Memory" is lacking a picture here, but sometimes the same will happen to normal webpages. Whether it actually works as a feature will need a longer period of use to tell.
Bars are the new dialogues
Missing plugins are handled in a fairly conventional way:
Click here to enable punch-the-monkey adverts.
Fixing the "problem" is direct, with the thing you need to click being present in both places that the problem is reported, which is something Firefox forgot to do until recently. I'm glad to say that this "bar" approach to things seems quite widely used in Chrome, and I'm a big fan of anything which avoids needlessly harassing me with a modal, intrinsically synchronous, dialogue for asynchronously reporting/asking for information. They use it after crashes, for example:
Compare to Opera/Firefox's "first tell me if you cared about whatever you were doing, then I'll think about letting you go somewhere".
An "enable scripts again" button would be nice, you know.
(A rare thumbs-up to Firefox here, too, which has also learnt to stop asking "oh, hey, you typed in a thing, should I remember it? Should I? Huh? Huh?" in my face:)
Opera remains the only browser I know which can properly handle more than one login per form, though.
The Turing-complete Dungeon
Oddly, although WebKit has supported blurred shadows for ages, Chrome doesn't; compare with Opera (which now does, and multiple at that).
Test one is an infinite loop, which you'd think would be so trivially malicious as to be harmlessly dealt with by now.
Why has the CPU fan suddenly gone mental?
Er, no. It's one of the better outcomes: the content of the tab is a goner (note the still-depressed button), and pressing the back button has updated the navigation controls but no more. But the damage is limited to that one tab, and I've heard that you can do this (and hadn't yet discovered Chrome's own task manager):
Kill it with fire.
I think they might just be classic Mac fans.
Now this is a very cool piece of engineering; I'd thought previously about relegating plugins to their own subprocesses to deal with crashy Linux Flash, but didn't know how practical that was with the plugin API (it turns out that they've done that too). Doing a process for each tab is also saving them from bugs in their own code, and by the looks of the comic they also drop permissions. If browsers are going to continue to grow into ungainly desktop environments, at least Google have made efforts to recycle OS-level sandboxing, and this alone earns Chrome many, many points.
Next comes the infinite
alert() loop, which is effectively a denial-of-service on the user interface.
The first popup looks like a fail, and then:
Firefox is three major versions in and still can't get out of this; Chrome solves it in the first beta.
It grows a little checkbox! Where have I seen one of those before?
I think this appeared in Opera...6?
I have to wonder if some of the Chrome devs were Opera fans: if so, it's working to their credit.
If you've been reading this in order, you've already seen the memory test. It looked like this:
It managed 28 iterations.
That's now two tests where Chrome can make it less lonely at the top for Opera. I am impressed.
So, it's doing well. Let's try the system killer test. Brace your swapfiles:
The dark-blue background is "sad tab" making a reappearance, as it's just crashed.
And it was doing so well. In its defence, the only browser to rate "good" is Internet Explorer under Windows, so it is the test from bizzaro-world.
It looks like Chrome's sandboxing has saved it here, but unfortunately it wasn't up to handling a repeat:
Opera slides along the taskbar to fill the gap freshly left by Chrome.
The killer with this test is that, with the OS unable to give you any more memory,
new and friends start throwing
OutOfMemoryExceptions all over the place; UI code, HTTP code, other people's library code, everywhere.
You've only got to miss one of those for everything to come crashing down around you.
(If you're under Linux, the out-of-memory killer will just come along and garrotte you.
Or maybe some other,
nice, innocent process.
Don't let Linux run out of memory; it's bad at it.)
After a few seconds, one of the surviving processes must have realised, though, because it offered to reincarnate. (This should really be an OS feature; ideally not dangerously broken.)
For some reason, this test didn't work at all at first (which I'll put down to "it's a beta"), but that at least gave me a look at the debugger:
(Squashed for screenshot.)
It's basically a trivial console, so FireBug need not lose any sleep. (Or Drosera/Web Inspector/whatever WebKit/Safari is doing these days.)
That red line in the graph is time spent frantically swapping, by the way.
It's a damn good first beta.
I have to temper this with the fact that I've not day-to-day used it long enough to learn its niggles and flaws yet (it hasn't been out long enough, and I'm still waiting for an official Linux build), but I'm really impressed to see so much going so right so early.
When they fix some of the silly crash bugs (typing "
chrome:%" into the address bar, etc.) and hit stable, they're going to be on to a strong contender.
If they can apply the same properly-engineered sandboxing approach to extensions, or learn some of the best tricks from an extended Firefox's repertoire (NoScript, or at least FlashBlock, please), and the last of Opera's (e.g. links, preferably before they broke downloading more than four at a time in 9.5; fit-to-width rendering mode (not just zoom)), they could be on to a winner.
In short: if Opera Software don't stop breaking their browser, this is gunning to replace it. That's something that Firefox never managed.