Google Chrome vs. Internet Explorer 8

Lean or Luxurious

As with any Beta release, I'm loathe to discuss performance characteristics beyond a simple "they seem a lot faster than IE 7" type of empirical observation (though others are reporting that Chrome clobbers the competition, especially when it comes to JavaScript execution). However, usability is fair game, and here it becomes a classic debate between fans of the "kitchen sink" approach and purists in the "less is more" crowd.

Internet Explorer 8 is the "kitchen sink" browser. In addition to carrying forward the legacy of Microsoft's much-maligned ActiveX architecture, IE 8 adds a host of new capabilities including Web Slices, which are sections of a Web page that are isolated and reproduced in a separate, updatable mini-window; Accelerators, which are basically context menu options that activate common Web services such as dictionary lookup or translation; and InPrivate Browsing, aka "porn mode," which lets you surf without leaving behind a browser or search history, cookies, temporary files, and other evidence of where you've been. Microsoft has also revamped the address bar to provide better auto-complete suggestions and expanded the dedicated Search field to include images and other rich media as part of the drop-down results set.

Google Chrome is definitely from the "less is more" school. The browser's UI is Spartan compared to IE 8's and has no dedicated Search box, instead combining search and auto-complete suggestions as part of a single, unified address superbox. New tabs open to reveal thumbnail views of frequently visited sites (IE 8 offers a similar view but focuses on recently closed tabs) and can be dragged into, out of, and between Chrome windows, allowing you to isolate, combine, and reorganize tabs on the fly (something you really need to experience first-hand to appreciate). And in a sign of the times, Chrome features its own take on "porn mode" (dubbed Incognito), where cookies and history data are deleted as soon as the tab is closed.

Overall, both IE 8 Beta 2 and the Chrome Beta look like compelling options. Each pushes the boundaries of Web application robustness while consuming gobs of resources and generally ignoring legacy hardware (i.e., systems more than 18 months old). Chrome will no doubt receive most of the attention, if for no other reason than it's from Google and thus "newer" and "cooler" than IE (not to mention, potentially more stable). However, I wouldn't count Microsoft out quite yet. The company still has the upper hand in overall browser share, and if nothing else, IE 8 is designed to appeal to Microsoft's user base by extending and enhancing what they already know. And, of course, IE 8 will eventually ship as part of the next Windows, a fact that virtually guarantees Microsoft's influence will continue to be felt in the next phase of the Web's evolution.

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