Google Chrome: First Impressions

Posted on Aug 05 2008 in Computing

Sometime near the beginning of this week I heard something in passing about Google releasing a web browser. At first, I thought that was a cute idea. After a couple seconds of letting it soak in, however, I began to wonder what Google would try to bring to the table that they felt was not already present. I also wondered if Google's banning, then re-instatement of the Mozilla Public License had anything to do with their new browser -- but they're not evil, so that can't be it!

I wasn't really worried about trying it out at all, but a few things conspired to change my mind. First, seeing the CEO of Google being interviewed about Chrome during prime-time. Second, all the blog coverage of Chrome; and, third, glancing over the shoulder of someone trying it out and thinking to myself, "Huh -- looks interesting."

So I downloaded Chrome and set about evaluating it:

Installation

Installation was surprisingly simple and quick. Chrome made things convenient by pulling in all my relevant data from Firefox (including stored passwords -- a reminder that malicious software could get this too!).

Startup

I had heard that Chrome was based largely on WebKit, an excellent Open Source browser engine that is used by Apple's Safari browser. If you've used Safari in Windows, you've probably come to expect to wait a few seconds longer than you're accustomed to waiting while Safari starts up for the first time. This is what I half-expected when starting Chrome, but I was pleasantly surprised when Chrome started up very quickly and cleanly.

Appearance

Having already seen Chrome at a glance, I knew basically what to expect. In general, the interface looks very clean and quick -- just like what we've all come to expect from Google.

Usability

You can't help but feel very unhindered by Chrome's interface. Moving tabs into the title bar is, in my opinion, a cool idea that I jive with (especially nice when the browser window is maximized). The button layout is similar to other browsers, especially Safari, and the configurations and options are easy to find under two buttons to the right of the address bar. I continue to be a little bothered by Chrome responding more than other applications to a single notch on my mouse wheel. Also, scrolling in general sometimes goes noticeably slower than Firefox/IE and shoots the CPU usage pretty high.

Page Rendering

I clicked around for a little while in some of the recent sites I'd worked on, and I couldn't find any rendering errors. After some clicking around to the sites that I frequent I was able to count two instances of not-quite-right rendering of sites that appear fine in FF2/3, IE7, and Safari3.

Often during page loading I would see the various layers get rendered in order. This isn't necessarily bad, because Chrome seems to go pretty quick (at least on my machine) -- but I found this interesting and wonder if it implies something about Chrome's differences even from its WebKit cousins.

Conclusion

I like Chrome. I don't expect to be using it as my primary browser just yet, and I'm not sure if I'd be ready to give up my Firefox extensions. I'll probably use Chrome for quick testing and possibly as just another browser session when testing sites, etc. If you want a simple, quick browser, though -- Chrome doesn't seem like a bad choice. And who knows -- maybe Google is only getting started!