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Agile Computing: Article

Google Chrome: A First Look

In its current state it looks like intended mostly for early adopters instead of an average internet user

Svetlana Gladkova on Profy

Google Chrome is an open-source browser developed by Google using existing WebKit rendering engine (the one used in Apple’s Safari browser) and its own Google Gears technology for offline use of supported web applications. The browser developed by Google is described by the company as something of a new generation of browser - the one working mainly with rich interactive applications instead of simple text pages of the past. The browser has launched as a Windows-only beta version with versions for Mac and Linux claimed to be in the works.

I spent all day yesterday constantly refreshing Google Chrome site hoping to be able to play with it before publishing my opinion about the browser. Unfortunately finally I fell asleep in hope to see it available in the morning. Now that the browser is finally available for download (it must have been well after midnight in all the time zones of Russia so the promise we would see Chrome on Tuesday was not particularly true) I am able to play with Chrome and report my impressions here.

First of all, I was very surprised to see that Chrome is launched with a localized Russian version from the very beginning (and lots of other languages supported for the browser’s interface). But at the same time I was very unpleasantly surprised that right after I clicked the installation link they somehow decided I actually wanted to get the Russian-language version. I have stated quite a number of times that Google is far from perfect in their localization efforts and while I appreciate they think about Russian users and want to offer us a Russian-language version, why don’t they offer us some choice in addition? Besides, as I quickly found out, Google Chrome localization is far from perfect also.

Then there was another pleasant surprise: right during the installation process Chrome offered to import all my bookmarks from Firefox - something Firefox users will be sure to appreciate. But unfortunately import simply did not work for me at all: Chrome warned me that I had to close Firefox first for import to happen - I did as advised and clicked the “next” button - but no matter how many times I clicked that button no import happened so I had to cancel it finally.

Now that I had Chrome up and running, I tried to fine-tune it for it to meet my minimum expectations for language and bookmarks. As soon as I figured out where to find the settings in the browser (I have to admit, it is quite a strange feeling for me not to have any menu at all) I changed the language settings and it was a success finally - only tool restarting the browser.

Next step was to finally have my bookmarks imported. This time it worked perfectly fine and I had everything imported from Firefox (including saved passwords and browsing history - since both are incredibly important for the majority of users, I think this functionality must determine probability of people actually migrating). Thank you, my first two disappointments are now addressed and I can actually work, even though it is still hard to grasp for me why the bookmarks from Firefox should be accessible only from a separate folder:

accessing bookmarks imported from Firefox

Now that I felt I was finally settled, I could finally take a look at the browser itself. My first observation is that Chrome is very different from what I am accustomed to on Firefox - simplistic to the extent I’ve never seen anywhere else. I’m not quite sure if this is “too simplistic” or “simplistic enough” for me as of yet but time will tell if I will be able to get accustomed to the new browsing mode without any distractions from the pages I browse at all.

But I am sure that many new users will be shocked by seeing nothing but the page you are browsing in the browser - and it will be up to Google to make people realize that they can enjoy more space for actual content, not less features to use the content.

The only thing I wanted to check with Chrome was how it will perform with a few tabs I keep open constantly in Firefox - so since I had my bookmarks in I could give it a try. So I opened: Profy, Profy in admin view, Profy stats, Techmeme, Gmail, Google Reader, Google Docs, FriendFeed, Twitter and a few other pages to create certain load on the browser.

My main impression is that Chrome works pretty fast - both in opening and updating pages and performing various standard functions I normally do on the pages. I have not seen any problems with accessing any of the pages I usually visit - and everything was processed with an amazing speed. The only victim was Profy’s traffic stats page since it uses JAVA to operate - and Chrome does not seem to have a plug-in required to display JAVA properly:

No plugin for JAVA in Google Chrome

One interesting surprise for me was that the “recent bookmarks” section on the homepage actually showed all the bookmarks on Digg and StumbleUpon, not only those bookmarks added to the browser itself. Honestly, I’d prefer to have those separate simply because while I can bookmark dozens of sites per day on social bookmarking sites, I only add those I need to actually visit again and again to my browser bookmarks - and giving them more prominence could be a good idea, especially given the need to make an extra click to access my bookmarks imported from Firefox.

Another small disappointment was not with Chrome itself but with Window’s Task Manager instead: since Chrome takes pride in handling every single tab opened as a separate process, I quickly had a long list of Chrome process so it took some time to find another process (for my IM client Miranda) that I wanted to close.

Google Chrome multiple process

In general I believe we will have many positive reviews of Google Chrome because it really looks like an interesting and innovative approach to browsing the web. But my opinion is that in its current state it looks like intended mostly for early adopters instead of an average internet user. And while early adopters can hardly be considered as a market, even they will hardly stick unless we start to get all those plug-ins and add-ons we already use in Firefox. But chances are if Google acts fast in both developing crucial plug-ins (like that for JAVA) and encouraging third-party developers to create versions of their browser plug-ins for Chrome, at least early adopters will stick and get accustomed to the new minimalist browser - hopefully followed by more mainstream population (admittedly with help of Chrome pushed at all visitors of Google home page).

More Stories By Svetlana Gladkova

Svetlana Gladkova is VP, Business Development at Profy. She was educated at the Novosibirsk State University of Economics and Management, in the Russian Federation. Svetlana covers technology news daily on the Profy blog.

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