Wow. Google’s announcement of its new browser has certainly set the web ablaze with fevered activity and conversation. Almost every other news site, Twitter or RSS article I’m reading this evening is about the dawn of Chrome.
According to the download page for the beta version, Google Chrome “is a browser that combines a minimal design with sophisticated technology to make the web faster, safer, and easier.” It does away with a separate search input, displays a home page of thumbnails of your favourite pages to provide a more ‘desktop’ feel, and even provides the equivalent of desktop shortcuts to online apps like Google Docs. Oh, and there’s an “incognito mode” for when you want your online activity to stay your own little secret.
It’s based on the WebKit open source web browser engine, and so Chrome is setting out to be standards-compliant in exactly the same way as Microsoft Internet Explorer isn’t. At first glance it doesn’t seem to offer anything particularly eye-catching or compelling that other browsers – Firefox in particular – don’t already offer, and the initial reactions to Chrome were rather “so what?”
Sure, it is fast and streamlined. According to TechCrunch, “Chrome is not only one of the fastest browsers I’ve ever used, it’s easily one of the best” with a simple and uncluttered interface just as you would expect from the company that brought a search engine homepage that was almost completely empty and didn’t try to be an all-singing, all-dancing portal at the same time.
As with any beta, there are glitches. Some reports suggest it doesn’t work with the delicious social bookmarking site, for example. It’s missing an easy method for organizing bookmarks and currently doesn’t offer any way to email links. Scobleizer’s review does a neat quick pros and cons list, Steve Levy’s written a thorough account of the development of it, and the BBC News site has a neat video demonstration of Chrome’s new feaures.
The response from those who stick with it for longer than 5 minutes seems to be mostly positive. Sadly, however, I can’t try it myself as I have a Mac and the beta is for Windows only. (And try as I might, no way am I going to be able to persuade our IT department at work to let me try it out on the Windows PCs there, not without spending a day on writing a business case for it!)
Does the world really need another browser? Probably not, but that’s not really what this is about. Google want some measure of control and input into how browsers work, especially with the latest dynamic technologies, so that they are in charge of the future of Google Docs and other sophisticated web applications, rather than being at the mercy of Microsoft, Mozilla and Apple all the time. This gives them a seat at the table on the discussions about the future of web browsers, and a big stick to wave in the air too, because the Google brand is huge and today’s response has shown that – like Apple – all they have to do is show up with a beta product and the masses will be storming the barricades to try it out.
When I got my new iMac in the summer, I decided I was going to stick with the Apple-supplied software rather than rush to install my familiar apps from my old trusty laptop – just to see how things had changed. I found the transition from Microsoft Entourage to Apple Mail to be completely pain free, and I have no intention of going back.
But Safari was the program that irritated me most. And one of the big reasons was searching. Sure Safari has a little Google search text entry field on the top right – but that was it. With a little configuration of Firefox, I can do direct searches not just of Google and Google News and Google Images, but of almost every site, including all the DVD online shopping sites that I use, Wikipedia, Flickr, IMDb, BBC – you get the idea.
It’s funny the little things that get to you and make all the difference.
These days, since my conversion to the delights of social media, I think I’d miss the Twitter plug-in even more than the searches. So that led me to try Flock, the “social web browser” built on the basic Firefox core. It was a nice try, but the social web aspects weren’t as comprehensive or as flexible as you could get by choosing the right add-ons for Firefox proper and so there seemed no reason to stick with it and not return to the real deal.
So while Chrome might be slimmed down, more stable, more reliable (although personally I’ve never had any problems with Firefox on the Mac) – I think I need to hang on to Firefox for a good while longer.
But that’s not to say I won’t be watching Chrome with interest. And when it comes out for Mac … Yes, I’ll probably be there taking it for a spin. Hey, I’m a geek after all.