Google Chrome - Upon Further Review

google chrome browser logo
On September 2, I wrote a first look about Google's new Chrome browser. I gave it a mixed quick review but now I've had a chance to live with it for 10 days and I have to admit it's growing on me.

Let's start with the issue of speed: My first impression was that Chrome was about as fast as Firefox and maybe just a hair faster than Internet Explorer. In a sense that's true - at least on my PC. I can't operate a stopwatch fast enough to measure the performance difference between Chrome and the two other popular browsers, but Chrome does seem snappier.

Using a browser today reminds me of using PCs back in the days when hard drives and processors were slower. Sometimes you'd have to wait three, four or five seconds for something to happen and felt good when you could reduce that to a second or two.

It's not as if those few seconds made any real difference in your day, it's just the psychological aspect of getting instant gratification rather than having to wait even a short time. We can all relate to that when we're stuck at a traffic light that slows us down a tiny bit - not enough to make us late but enough to make us feel frustrated and held back.

One very cool aspect of Chrome that's gotten little attention is the way it respects screen real estate. In addition to keeping the interface simple and clean and devoid of too many icons, tool bars and even menus, the browser allows you to move tabs from the main window to separate windows and then move them back. At first I didn't appreciate that feature, but now find it awesome.

When using Firefox or Microsoft's Internet Explorer, there are times when I decide to open a page in a new window instead of a new tab because I want to be able to see it and another page at the same time. Typically, I then move away from that page and forget it's there, which results in lots of windows cluttering my screen. With Chrome you can open a new page in a tab and - if you later want it in a separate window - you can drag it away. And you can later drag it back to consolidate it with other tabs.

A lot has been said about how Chrome is crash-proof. While nothing is anything-proof, I have already experienced the advantage of Google's multi-threaded approach. I visited a couple of sites that ground Chrome to a halt. But instead of having to close the entire browser, I just closed that one tab and everything continued to work. With Firefox, I often have to press Ctrl+Alt+Del to abort the entire program and there have even been times when I've had to power down my PC to get out of a browser crash.

Ease of use is an issue with Chrome. Many aspects of its interface are not readily apparent, which forced me on more than one occasion to look at Google's help page. For example, I had a hard time figuring out how to drag tabs back to the main window. I kept trying and failing until I realized that you need to grab the visual depiction of the tab itself, not the blue bar at the top of the window. And because there are no menus, you have to click around to figure out how to do basic tasks like printing.

I wish that both Google and Microsoft hadn't messed around quite so much with the interface. I still have trouble getting used to the non-standard interface in IE 7 and, for that matter, the new version of Microsoft Office. However, anyone willing to consult the help screen and spend a couple of hours of trial and error should be able to figure out how to use Chrome's essential features.

Like the public beta version of Microsoft Internet Explorer 8.0, Firefox has a private browser option that doesn't record anything from your session. As with Explorer this is an option. When you're using Chrome's "incognito" mode, what you do won't appear in your search or browsing history and there won't be any traces such as cookies. Google is quick to point out that this won't provide protection for "Websites that collect or share information about you, Internet service providers or employers that track the pages you visit, Malicious software that tracks your keystrokes in exchange for free smileys, Surveillance by secret agents or People standing behind you." "Googlers" (people who work at Google) have a sense of humor.

One thing missing in Chrome is the lack of a send-this-page option. I frequently find myself wanting to share Web links with others and, unlike Firefox and IE, Chrome offers no way to e-mail a link directly from the browser. You would think that Google would want to at least let you do that via Gmail.

The nice thing about Chrome is that it's free and a relatively small download so there's no impediment to checking it out. If you decide to try it, give it a few hours. Like anything else that's new, it will be unfamiliar at first. But after a few hours you might find yourself liking it. If not, you still have the option of using Firefox or Internet Explorer.
By Larry Magid