Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Third Look: Google Chrome

I'm man enough to eat my own words.  Some will never do that.  Yes, I'm patting myself on the back for what is essentially a non-virtue, but whatever, 2008 has sucked so badly that I'll enjoy smelling the air as if it were my last breath.  And it's something I can still afford.

Anyhow, Google Chrome:  Fantastic

Minimal - yes.  Simplistic - arguable.  Feature-rich:  Hmmm.

Previously, I said it was lacking in "options" to tweak.  But the options should be exchanged for features in my opinion.  I have to split my view of things into two basic camps: user/usability and enterprise management.  

I judge a product first by it's end-user usability traits.  How does it work.  How does it feel.  Where are the pain points.  How stable is it.  And so forth.   If the product could fit into an enterprise environment, you know, those places where things are "deployed", implying large scale or numbers of endpoints for installation, then I heap on a second pile of aspects to judge it on.  Can it be packaged.  Can options be pre-configured (before end-user deployment).  Can it be silently installed.  Does it have pre-requisite needs.  Does it create compatability issues or conflicts.  Does it work reliably on XP and Vista.  And so forth.

I can't speak to the enterprise management aspects at this point, because I haven't had the need or opportunity to put it into that sort of environment.  However, from the user/usability side of things, it simply rocks.  But what makes it shine (to me anyway) are it's small features that pop out when you don't expect them.

Some examples:

  • When you open a new tab and start typing in a URL, it automatically starts narrowing down the selection "suggestions" in the same manner it does for searches when you use the Google Toolbar for Firefox.  Very handy indeed.
  • When you open a new tab the default (blank) window is actually not "blank" but filled with thumbnails of previously visited web sites.  Just click and open.
  • Rendering of pages is significantly faster than IE6, IE7, IE8, Firefox 2, Firefox 3, Opera 9 or Safari.  Not just a little, but a lot faster.  It reminds of when Mozilla was first playing with the Gecko rendering engine in a stripped-down test browser.  Then they piled on too much eye-candy and it slowed it down too much, so they renamed it Firefox.  (It's all subjective of course, since FF3 is still faster than IE7 and about equal with IE8 from my experiences, but Chrome is faster than that)
  • The top-side tabs actually are easier to use.  For such a trivial modification to "standard" UI design, they actually make it easier to visually scan the tabs and what sites are open.
  • Highlight some text in a web page and right-click on it.  Not much to choose from at this point, but there is "Search Google for '------'" and it works very well.
  • The "Remember Password" feature works as well as it does in Firefox 2 and 3.  And the installation "import" process grabbed my Firefox password cache so it was ready to rock immediately (the import Favorites from IE feature did not work on any of my test machines by the way).
There are some quirks which might be "bugs" but I can't definitively categorize them as such just yet.  I have to get used to its behaviors first.   But so far, my kids really like it, and my wife really likes it (mainly because (a) it looks like Firefox and (b) it's faster).  Obviously, that's not a scientific metric, but it works for me.
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