Thoughts on Chrome So Far

I was about to write all about my problems with Chrome and Google Docs, so I did a quick document in Google Docs from Chrome, sent it to my blog at WordPress and grabbed screen shots of everything, then went to Google Docs in Firefox to grab screen shots of how it performs there and write up a quick document to show how it formats everything, then I was going to post that document to my blog to show how my work flow had been running so smoothly from Firefox.

Unfortunately, Google Docs wouldn’t post to my blog in Firefox for some strange reason (despite that I have always done things this way).  It’s always unsettling when things suddenly stop working the way they had been working consistently.

Overall, after using Chrome for nearly two weeks I have almost no complaints.  Of course, I was spoiled in Firefox with all of the ad blocking add-ons, bookmark synchronizing and other plug-ins that will surely be a part of Chrome in the future.  From an everyday use point of view, Chrome has met all of my needs and shown me a better way to browse the web in most cases.

On the features page for Google Chrome they list ten features that have been talked about since even before the browser launched a couple days shy of two weeks ago.  Taking a shortcut in writing my official initial review of the Google Chrome browser, I am going to list each of the ten features and write about my personal experiences with that feature.

One Box for Everything

AKA, the Omnibox.  Let me just say that I love the omnibox.  I have been trying to exploit all of its functionality since I began using the browser, and I think it may still be hiding cool features from me.  It just seems to be able to do everything.  You can type anything into it and when you hit “Enter” it just goes.  Sure, nothing is perfect, and I was hoping to be able to find a story I read earlier today somewhere by searching the omnibox, but it couldn’t find it (then, neither can I, searching the history, searching the web and retracing my steps, so I may just be dumb).

Of course, not much of what it does from a basic user standpoint is actually unique, it’s the fact that it is all combined into one place that makes it new.  It highlights the main domain URL, but so do some plug-ins and beta browsers.  It does both URL and search box jobs, which Internet Explorer has been doing with Microsoft’s own search when what you type doesn’t lead to a website.  Of course, the ability to search using a site’s search function before you ever load the page is a wonderful new feature.  The omnibox’s connection with your browsing history is extremely useful, and the fact that it has combined so many features into one place just makes me happy.

I’ve always loved Google’s approach to designing user interfaces, and they carried their ideas over to Chrome beautifully.  The omnibox is, of course, the very essence this philosophy.  If I didn’t have my bookmark toolbar turned on all the time the whole user interface would nearly disappear into my browsing experience.  Even with the slender bookmark toolbar I feel like Chrome is a much lighter browser than most of the competition.

New Tab Page

I use iGoogle as my homepage, but the new tab page in Chrome is so comfortable and useful, it’s almost like home.

It’s divided into four areas.  The first, and largest section being the Most Visited sites grid.  The grid contains thumbnails and titles of your nine most visited sites.  I’ve never used the Opera browser, but I guess this “dialer” approach is directly knocked off from Opera (I’ve also seen the feature offered by add-ons for Firefox).  Below the grid there is a link to your complete web history (also a nice looking, easy to use page).

The next section at the top of the right hand column is the Searches box.  Here search boxes grabbed right from sites you’ve visited and searched from are displayed for you to use.  This function is separate from the omnibox’s ability to allow you to search Amazon, for example by typing “amazon.com health and medicine” to search Amazon for “health and medicine.”  My Searches section has a search bar for my browsing history, Amazon.com, Wikipedia.com and YouTube.com, all places I’ve searched from lately.  Rather than loading those sites to search there, I can use the omnibox or the search box right on my new tab page.

The next box below the Searches box is the Recent Bookmarks box.  In my new tab page it lists the last nine bookmarks I saved.  I don’t know if it grabs those based on a time frame or will always list the last nine bookmarks.

Somehow, my current new tab page doesn’t have the final box (it’s usually there, and I’m sure there’s a good reason for it to be gone).  The final box displays recently closed tabs.  I have recently closed tabs, but by “recent” I mean a couple of hours ago.  I suppose this box is populated based on a time frame.  Either way, it’s the closest thing Chrome has to an “Undo Close Tab” function.

I use the new tab page frequently, though I don’t see it ever replacing my iGoogle homepage unless it can learn to display custom updates (new Gmail messages, new Reader feed content, messages and updates from other sites, etc.) from the sites I use most.

Application Shortcuts

Admittedly, I hadn’t used this function until just a few seconds ago, but it’s great!  I went to my site’s dashboard at WordPress and clicked on the “create application shortcuts…” menu item.  A box popped up showing me a preview of the icon and text for the shortcut, and below there were three check boxes for creating the shortcut on my desktop (checked by default), in my start menu and in the quick launch bar.  I left the default checkbox checked and hit OK.  Immediately, the WordPress tab jumped out of my main browser window and the whole Chrome interface disappeared.  At that point, the WordPress interface takes over and it behaves just like an application on my computer.

Just to try it out, I closed the WordPress window and opened the new shortcut.  I loaded quickly (Google Gears may have been playing a part in that) and worked beautifully.  I had originally worried that the shortcut might be an average Internet shortcut that opens in your default browser (still Firefox on my computer), but these shortcuts load in special, featureless windows designed to make the page feel like its own application.

Perfect.  I love this feature and will begin creating application shortcuts for all of my favorite web applications (and some I wasn’t using just because they weren’t accessible enough).

Dynamic Tabs

Dynamic is a good word for it.  Even just watching them move around so fluidly as I rearrange them, open new ones and close old ones, I love the way these tabs work.  Even better is the ability dock and undock tabs from different windows.  If I have three tabs open and I want to make sure one doesn’t get closed by accident while I am closing others, I can drag that tab down out of the tab bar and it separates into its own new window.  When I have the first window back in order, I can drag that separated tab back into the main window and I’m back to having only one browser window.  It’s fluid, it’s dynamic, it’s fast and it’s efficient.  I think it’s great.

Crash Control

Aah, what a relief.  Google Chrome runs each tab in a separate process on your computer so if something crashes one tab the rest of them can continue functioning.  In theory this should bog the system down a bit, but I haven’t noticed a drop in performance at all (and my system is OLD – 512 MB of ram, single core processor, and so forth).

Built in with these separate processes is a process manager.  I can’t figure out how to bring it up manually, but it comes up automatically if a tab is taking too long and gives you the option to shut it down.  I’ve heard the process manager can be viewed by bringing it up manually, but I haven’t cared to poke around enough to find it.

So far, after twelve days of continuous, daily use, I have yet to see any fatal errors, major problems or crashed programs.  The task manager has come up offering to let me wait on or close slow tabs only three or four times, and most the time I just choose to wait and the tab loads eventually (dumb slow ISP…).

Incognito Mode

True, this has been dubbed “porn mode” by many ever since the feature was made part of the new Internet Explorer and similar functions appeared through the use of plug-ins and third party applications.  Basically, this is a new browser window you can open that prevents any information from being stored on your computer (cookies, history, cache, browsing information of any kind, and more).

I don’t have much use for it as a “porn mode” but I did run some tests on it to see if it could indeed mask my web browsing activity as promised.  No sign of my incognito activity was recorded to the computer, just like they said.

Unless I’m trying to hide something from someone else who uses the computer, I really can’t see much of a use for incognito browsing (for me, personally).  I understand there are people who would want it for one reason or another, but it’s not really that exciting to me.

Perhaps the best part about this mode is the window that loads when you first open the incognito browser window.    

Click for larger view.

I love that last bullet point of things to be wary of – people standing behind you.  Especially with the nickname such a mode has earned, the idea of someone thinking they are safe looking at some dirty videos or images and someone else standing right behind them watching really tickles me.

Safe Browsing

Chrome is connected with Google’s directory of harmful sites and integrates this service into the browsing experience.  While my normal web browsing habits never take me to the darker corners of the net, I can see how such a service could be quite handy.

When you are about to view sensitive data over an insecure connection the browser warns you.  Also, as with any non-Internet Explorer browser, browser specific attacks are rare.  The separate processes for each tab also provide a certain degree of safety.  For a number of reasons, Google is entitled to claim that Chrome offers safe browsing.

Of course, security holes exist and a patch has already been issued in the form of an upgrade (an easy process once you know where to go – the About Google Chrome menu option).  No browser (to date) can claim to be 100% secure, but Chrome makes major strides in the right direction.

Instant Bookmarks

Bookmarking a page really is easy, especially since Google borrowed most of the process from already established models.  The star icon that I first saw in Firefox (though since I avoid Internet Explorer, Safari, Opera and Netscape I suppose it could have started in one of those) has reappeared in Chrome, and it has been improved upon.

While at a page you wish to bookmark, you click the star icon and a tiny menu box opens right there with options for renaming the bookmark and placing it in a folder.  There is an Edit button for more options, a Close button for if you don’t need to edit anything and there is a remove button to remove the bookmark (the same menu pops up every time you hit the star, even if the page is already bookmarked).  That’s it.  Simple, sweet and easy to use.

Importing Settings

When I installed Chrome it identified Firefox as my current default browser and offered to import my settings and data from Firefox.  I did, and it brought all of my bookmarks and cookies over, but I don’t think it brought my browsing history, which would have been nice.

Simpler Downloads

I really do like the download manager in Chrome.  There isn’t much to say about it though, because it’s just too simple and elegant to criticize or discuss.  It downloads things at the bottom of the window, the tab that initiated the download gets a little green down-arrow to signify that a download is being managed from there, the corner display has a percentage and bits downloaded progress circle, and the finished download display has a menu for interacting with the downloaded file.  That’s it.

The browser keeps a history of your downloads, which can be viewed like the browsing history.  A default download location can be set, and an option to “ask every time” can be enabled.

General Review

Again, this browser isn’t ready to replace my beloved Firefox browser as the default browser.  However, after twelve days of using it as my default browser, I have to say I’m only waiting for a few things to come together.

For one, if this post formats correctly after the transfer from Google Docs to WordPress, about 90% of my reason for leaving Firefox as the default browser will have disappeared.

If I have to go back and erase a bunch of DIV tags to get it to format correctly, I’m going to be quite annoyed and Chrome will have to start mowing my lawn before I’ll make it my default browser.

So I suppose we could consider the posting of this article the moment of truth between Chrome and me.  Of course, the formatting issue isn’t the only problem I’ve had with using Google Docs in Chrome.

Here is a summary of the problems I have encountered so far in Google Docs using Chrome:

1. It uses DIV tags to separate paragraphs in the HTML.  This does not happen in Firefox.  (See screenshot below.)  The DIV tag creats an issue in WordPress, and makes the whole thing format incorrectly.

Click for larger view.

2. The main Google Docs interface page is having troubles rendering correctly in Chrome (see screenshot below).  As of right now, the problem seems to be coming from a failed attempt to update the Google Docs application.  Right now I’ve got a red exclamation point where the little green circle should be.  That’s not good.

Click for larger view.

It never got past the 67% and now it says: “An error occurred while updating software. Failed to update software for the applications: Google Documents, Google Spreadsheets.”  If this isn’t Chrome’s fault, I don’t know who to blame.

3. When assigning text as a link, a space is often inserted after my selected text.  If my memory serves correctly, this may have been happening on occasion in Firefox as well.  May not be browser specific, but it can be annoying.

4. I don’t know whether to blame Chrome for this one, but Google Docs mysteriously quit posting to my blog from Firefox after I posted to my blog from Chrome just once.  Coincidence?  Maybe.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is obvious that Chrome is having compatibility issues with certain web applications (eh hem, Google Docs; though others are probably out there) and that is to be expected.  For now, I forgive Google but I expect them to fix it, especially since my problems have to do with Google products.

To be completely fair, web standards play a huge role in this issue, and Microsoft’s near monopoly on the browser marked makes things difficult for smaller browsers (even Firefox).

Except for compatibility and web standard issues, I really don’t have many complaints about Chrome.  Google stripped the traditional browser of many features it felt were redundant, unnecessary or overly complicated and produced Chrome with all the features it needed wrapped up into a neat, efficient package.  I love the way it handles.  It feels like navigating the web in a technology demonstrator prototype vehicle.  Some things are a hundred times more efficient (Chrome does feel a little faster) and in other areas you’re bound to happen upon a bug or two.  I look forward to future releases and upgrades, and may soon make Chrome my default browser (especially if this post works out and I don’t have to redo the formatting).

*Update: The formatting issue remains an issue.  I suppose I’ll have to report this to the folks at Google. 

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