Tuesday, October 28, 2008

First Look: Google Chrome

I've used quite a few of Google's other products (Gmail, Google Earth/Maps, Docs, etc.) so I was more than ready to try its browser, Google Chrome.

Several seconds after navigating to the Chrome Web site, I had the browser package downloaded (the file weighs in at a light 475KB, which is rather impressive these days). After an easy installation, Chrome automatically imported my Firefox bookmarks, which was a nice touch.

At first glance, Chrome has the makings of a nice, lightweight browser comparable to Konqueror or Safari. My average memory footprint was about 28MB on Windows XP, which was considerably lighter than Firefox.

In terms of its looks, Chrome loosely resembles Vista's Aero. From a usability standpoint, Chrome is fairly elegant; it has a minimalist interface with the back, forward and refresh buttons displayed prominently. Like practically all modern browsers, Chrome features tabbed browsing.

Because Chrome is still in beta, I was expecting to see some areas that needed improvement -- and I did. The default start page has a nice feature that displays thumbnails of your most frequently viewed Web sites (though it takes awhile for this list to populate), but aside from that, it's strangely bare. Since the people who are most likely using Chrome probably use other Google tools, I was expecting to see tie-ins for Gmail or Docs. I also missed Firefox's extension capabilities.

I also noticed that there was no way to subscribe to an RSS feed in Chrome. Chrome's configuration interface looked a little bit sparse and didn't have as many options and features as other browsers. Furthermore, I had to test chrome in a virtualized XP environment, since there is no native Linux version of Chrome at this time.

On the other hand, Chrome did better than Firefox on the Acid 3 test, scoring an impressive 79 out of 100 over Firefox's 69 (although the Linktest failed). Like Safari, Chrome uses the Webkit rendering engine. Chrome also routinely downloads a blacklist and whitelist meant to protect users from phishing sites.

Chrome has the makings of a good browser, but still lacks a few important features. Google's beta-quality software is usually very good (Gmail is fully usable despite having been in beta for years now) so you may want to consider Chrome if you need something fast and lightweight.

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