The first beta of Chrome, Google’s long-in-development Internet browser, became available Tuesday afternoon for Windows Vista and XP users, with Mac and Linux editions soon to follow. There’s ample reason to be excited about the release, and just as much reason to be wary. Check out these screen shots, weigh the pros and cons, and then decide for yourself.
For further PCWorld.com coverage of Chrome, see assistant editor Nick Mediati’s product review (“Google Chrome Web Browser“) and contributing editor Harry McCracken’s analysis of how Google’s entry into the browser market affects the other major players (“Chrome vs. the World“).
Seven Reasons Chrome Could Be Cool
1. It won’t crash.
Perhaps Chrome’s biggest draw is its multiprocess architecture, which, in a nutshell, protects you from having a bad Web page or application take your browser down. Every tab, window, and plug-in runs in its own environment–so one faulty site won’t affect anything else that you have open. This approach also adds another layer of security by isolating each site and application within a limited environment.
2. It’s really fast.
Again because of the multiprocess foundation, one slow site won’t drag down the rest of your browsing. Instead, you can effortlessly click to another tab or window. With plug-ins, the arrangement works similarly: If you open a site that has a slow-loading Java ad, for example, the Java itself will be isolated and the rest of the page won’t be affected. The program itself opens within seconds of when you click the icon, too–a distinct advantage over some slower-loading alternatives.
3. You barely notice it’s there.
Calling the design of Chrome’s interface streamlined is an understatement. The program barely looks like a program, and the vast majority of your screen space is devoted to the site you’re visiting–with no buttons or logos hogging space. Chrome’s designers say that they wanted people to forget they were even using a browser, and it comes pretty close to achieving that goal.
4. It makes searching simpler.
One of Chrome’s signature features is its Omnibox, an integrated all-purpose bar at the top of the browser. You can type in a URL or a search term–or both–and Chrome takes you to the right place without asking any questions. Omnibox can learn what you like, too–a talent that goes beyond the obvious automatic completion function. Say that you want to use the PCWorld.com search function, for example. Once you’ve visited the site once, Chrome will remember that PCWorld.com has its own search box and will give you the option of using it right from Omnibox. The function thus automates keyword searches.
5. It gives you more control over tabs.
Chrome gives the idea of tabbed browsing new power. You can grab a tab and drag it out into its own individual window. Or you can drag and drop tabs into existing windows to combine them. Chrome also gives you the option of starting up in any tab configuration you want–whether a custom setup or the set of tabs you had open in your previous session. Other browsers require third-party add-ons to provide this capability.
6. It opens new doors on your home page.
Chrome comes with a default dynamic home page. As you use it, the program remembers the sites that you visit most often. The top nine of those appear in snapshots on your home page, along with your most commonly used search engines and bookmarks. There’s no force-feeding here, though: You can override the dynamic home page with any home page you want, just as you can set the default search engine to any service you prefer.
7. It lets you stay incognito.
Like Internet Explorer 8’s recent beta release, Chrome offers a private browsing option–one it calls Incognito. You can open a special type of new window and rest easy knowing nothing you do in it will be logged or saved on your computer. And unlike Internet Explorer’s, Chrome’s Incognito window is isolated from the rest of your browsing experience, so you can have your private window open alongside your regular windows, and each will operate independently.
1. It’s only in its first beta.
This is Chrome’s first test release, so problems are bound to crop up over the coming months. If like most people you rely heavily on Web browsing, you run a risk by putting your online life into the hands of an unproven product. Visits to some plug-in-oriented sites such as logmein.com have generated errors (“This application has failed to start because xpcom.dll was not found…”). Do you want to deal with that kind of uncertainty daily?
2. You won’t have any add-ons.
Add-ons are a huge draw for Firefox fans, and none of these are available in Chrome yet. Google does intend to create an API for such extensions, but for now you’ll have to make do without your AdBlocks, Better Gmails, and BugMeNots–or you’ll have to switch between browsers to use the add-ons you want when you want them.
3. You can’t synchronize.
One big plus of Firefox is its ability to synchronize across multiple computers using Mozilla’s Weave option. This arrangement allows you to keep your home browser, your laptop browser, and your work browser looking identical at all times–and once you get used to that level of synchronization, it’s hard to give up. Chrome doesn’t yet have that capability.
4. You may draw the short stick on standards.
Standards get a little less standard as this new player enters the equation. It’s based on WebKit, the same open-source system that drives Apple’s Safari; but when you look at pages in Chrome compared to pages in Firefox or IE, you’ll notice a difference in text formatting. And since most sites give coding priority to the market leader, you might be setting yourself up for disappointment with Chrome.
5. You’re giving advertisers extra ammo.
Have you seen all the hype about Google’s privacy practices and how much of your data it shares with advertisers? Imagine the potential ammo you’re giving it by using this browser. Google will now have total control over your experience from the time you open Chrome to the time you shut down. In some sense, you might just as well invite DoubleClick to watch over your shoulder while you surf.
6. The dropdown bar is dropped.
The idea of the URL dropdown bar is dropped in Chrome. To compensate, the browser offers “intelligent” features in its Omnibox; but if you like being able to see your recent URLs at the click of a button, you’ll miss the dropdown bar.
7. You lose some history power.
Chrome’s History functions are less versatile than the powerhouse ones built by Firefox. Chrome offers only a simple screen showing your day-by-day history. The ability to sort everything by date, site, or most visited appear to have joined the distaff and spindle on the ash heap.
So there you have it: the good, the bad, and the ambiguous of Google’s first foray into browsing. You’ve heard the hype; now, the decision is yours. Whose campaign will you be joining?