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Reviewing Google Chrome

After all the fuss about Google Chrome (external link), you can't help but feel that it's just hype and that it won't end up being as good as originally promised. I must say, however, that after reading through the comic I was pretty excited. I don't want to get into the debate about whether Google should have their own browser, as well as give money to support Firefox. However, I do think that it's a great thing that a wider selection of browsers has opened up recently: first with the arrival of Mozilla Firefox and now with a high profile release from Google. Beyond the politics of the browser is the browser itself, which I've been playing a little with.

The thing that struck me first was the speed of Chrome. I've become used to having to wait a few seconds for the browser to load before I can start actually browsing the web, but, with Google Chrome, there is no wait. The browser loads almost instantly and is ready for you to start browsing right away.

Screenshot of Chrome\'s new tab page

After it has opened, you are presented by the new tab page. This page shows a three by three grid of your most visited websites, which automatically updates, along with the bookmarks you've recently added and your most used search engines. This page has clearly been inspired by the Opera Speed Dial, but it has evolved into something quite different. Instead of being a page that the user creates with their own shortcuts, the browser guesses what to show. This could be a good thing, as you don't have to remember to update the page; however, the page might not display all the links you want or some you'll never use.

One think I find really impressive about Chrome is its interface. It's extremely clean and simple, with no status bar and no menu bar, and with only eight buttons visible. The lack of a status bar is compensated for with a box that fades in/out in the bottom left corner of the window. In addition to being a progress bar, it also displays the URL of a link when you hover over it. I like the status bar in Chrome because it only appears when it is needed.

There are some downsides to the interface though. The tab bar is integrated into the title bar of the window, which looks nice, but it comes with a very unfortunate side effect. On tab bars, in most browsers, you can double click the empty space to the right of the tabs to open a new tab. However, as the area of the tab bar is actually part of the title bar as well, it will maximise the window (the default action for double clicking a title bar in Windows). It took me by surprise when it happened the first time and I can't really think of a way around it either; except to move the tabs down a bit, which would mess up Chrome's look.

Screenshot of Chrome\'s address bar

I haven't really messed with the address bar much. Google calls it the "Omnibar", but I refuse to use that particular phrase to describe what is basically an address bar that can do search. However, it seems to work perfectly well at typing in addresses and even at suggesting addresses as you type. It will also allow you to search both the web and your history, which is a nice little feature, albeit one that most browsers have already.

Screenshot of Chrome\'s resource tool

There are also some other features that are nice in Chrome. The create application shortcut is nice and it works very well for making web apps feel a lot more like desktop apps. The built in Gears is useful, although I've yet to find a good use for it because whenever I have access to my laptop I also have access to the Internet. Last, some of the developer tools that come with Chrome are very well thought out and work well. I particularly like the resources page, which gives a nice timeline of how the page loaded: showing what parts took the most time to load, very useful for cutting down load times.

The only thing I haven't tested very much yet is V8, Chrome's new JavaScript engine. I've not done any tests, but I can say that it doesn't feel slow and that it is speedy with apps like Google Reader. However, I find most browsers to be fast enough, excluding Internet Explorer.

Given time this browser will become a serious contender in the browser market. However, at the minute, it feels a little short on the little comforts and features, even if all the basics are polished to a mirror shine.