Monday, 13 October 2008

Chrome – first reports

I have been using the new Chrome browser from Google since it first became available. And I find that I am using it in preference to Explorer 7 (I haven’t tried the beta of 8 yet) and Firefox 3. But there’s much more to Chrome than just being another browser – and that’s what I’d like to talk about.

Firstly, I’d like to say that I have found it very easy to use and generally very robust. My one criticism is that the flash plug-in dies suddenly for apparently no good reason. This has been an irritation at times. But otherwise I have found it user-friendly – particularly when opening new windows to a site that I visit regularly.

What makes Chrome different from other browsers is the fact that it is really a big JavaScript engine and could, very easily, run services and applications as if they were desktop applications. Things, perhaps, like Docs & Spreadsheets or Picasa, and I’m sure many other Web-based applications that aren’t anything to do with Google! This is what’s known as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).

The interesting thing, from a user’s perspective is that if I don’t know a company’s URL, I can just type their name in the address bar and Google searches it, in the usual way, and displays the results of the search in the page. I can then click on the correct URL. 

I also quite like the idea of the secret browse! Control+Shift+N gives you an incognito window, which doesn’t save any data locally. I’m not sure quite why I need it, but people who share computers with others might want to hide their tracks.

You can grab a tab a drag it out of the Chrome window into space on the desktop, and you will have a separate version of Chrome running. You also have “about” commands that you can type into the address bar. These tell you about plug-ins, networks, etc. You may like the “about:internets” command to see the Chrome Easter egg.

Everyone’s saying that Chrome is a major escalation in the rivalry between Google and Microsoft – and, of course, it is. It’s also the start of a war with Firefox. Many people were using Firefox, both because it was good and because it wasn’t Microsoft. However, it hadn’t quite made it as the standard corporate browser. Most corporations are very conservative, sticking to what they know works (even when it doesn’t work particularly well) rather than trying something new that might be a disaster. Now corporations have to choose one from three!

Chrome is open source and it support EV-SSL security certificates, so it might be chosen by organizations for its security credentials. We shall see, over the next few months, whether hackers and crackers can do anything nasty to it.

Some people might be a little concerned about Google collecting around 2% of the keystroke data collected by the address bar’s auto-suggest feature. Or maybe it will just confirm the worst fears organizations have of their staff spending too much time on Facebook or looking for pornography. Or maybe we should just spend all our time working from the incognito window.

You might also take another look at Google Gears. The current version (0.4) includes a desktop API that lets Web applications perform file-handling tasks on a user’s desktop. Why should you care? Well it’s a way of making the underlying operating system – typically Windows – unimportant. 

So, at the moment, Chrome, even as a beta, is an easy-to-use browser. The SaaS features may make it able to act more like a mini-operating system. And maybe it will turn up on PDAs and mobile phones, and a million other devices that have Internet access.

Have a play with it and see what you think.

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