Google Chrome Impressions

Following the Tuesday release of Google’s new web browser, Chrome, I have used it for the last two days for a great deal of my web use. I wanted to write up a quick summary of my impressions, which I hope to follow up with some pointers to the torrent of articles that are filling my news feeds. Clearly, I am not the only person intrigued by this release and the motivations behind it.

Where are my checkboxes?
I can’t haz checkboxes?

For a first release, Chrome seems to be stable and well thought out. My standard browser, on a PC and on my Macs at home, is Firefox 3. I have not performed stopwatch tests, but browsing in Chrome feels faster to me, with launch being substantially better than FF3. I have not used it long enough to speak to memory use, but I applaud the Chrome team’s desire to curb Firefox’s ravenous appetite for RAM. Rendering seems nearly identical, although I am struck by how many check boxes appear blank in Chrome – WordPress and, most oddly, Gmail are both victims of this Chrome quirk.

The largest difference between them is the absence of extensions for Chrome. First and foremost, I miss the amazing RTM for Gmail plug-in, which I use daily. In this regard, Chrome reminds me of Camino, which I like very much on my Macs, but is also extension-free. The other real losses here are the site-enhancements I use via Greasemonkey and Stylish. Things like Jasper’s Google Reader subscribe are conveniences, but Google Reader without “Mark All as Read” is a key block between me and madness. I understand why these things are not available in Chrome, but I do miss them.

Another goal Chrome has set for itself is enabling their browser to work as a site-specific browser, or SSB (read this if the term is unfamiliar to you). I use Mozilla’s Prism for this under XP (I prefer v0.8 over v0.9 as 0.9 broke the RTM widget and various other sites). I have used the Gecko-based Prism for this purpose with Gmail, Gcal, Google Reader, Google Docs, Remember The Milk, and Facebook. It works well with all of them. At home, I use the WebKit-based Fluid for these same sites under OS X. Now Chrome brings WebKit-based SSBs to me under XP. Again, I would say the launch times are much better under Chrome, and that the rendering seems essentially equivalent. I still have disappearing check-box issues with Chrome and I have noted, using the Chrome Task Manager, that pages spawned from Chrome SSB’s do not seem to be separate processes with their own memory spaces – perhaps I am misreading the Task manager? Not sure. An example:

It seems processes spawned from Chrome's SSB windows are not partioned?
It seems processes spawned from Chrome are not partitioned?

Perhaps this is why the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg had Chrome crash on him as he noted in his lukewarm review? (As an aside, the NBC Olympics site, which is what bit Mossberg, has been, in my not so humble opinion, an unmitigated disaster of useless, dead-end navigation.)

One last note – the redesigned Facebook uses some sort of AJAX-y links to enable a variety of the links in its life-stream – the comments link or the “Become A Fan” links, for example. I am consistently unable to click those links while using Chrome, which is mighty annoying. It would be great to see those bugs fixed.

I am delighted to have a WebKit-based browser with a wonderfully minimal interface available to me for free from Google. I applaud their decision to develop this as an open-source initiative and I feel certain that this effort will go on to enrich Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, Camino, Opera, Prism, and Fluid. I look forward to having a crack at Chrome on my Macs at home, which will be in a few months according to Brin’s comments to Swisher today. Sigh.

My next post on this topic will be a host of links to useful Chrome resources across the web (Update: link post here).

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