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Does Chrome Shine?

Okay, not the most original title for an article about Chrome, Google’s new browser, but it’s early and sometimes I’m allowed to be lame. Let me start by saying two of the browsers I’ll talk about in this article are beta browsers. Both IE 8 and Chrome are still in the works and some of my complaints will most likely be addressed before they are “officially” released.

I have IE 8, Flock (a derivative of Firefox) and Chrome installed on my computer. I’ve been running head to head comparisons of the 3 since I downloaded Chrome yesterday and for a week before that I was comparing IE 8 and Flock trying to decide which would be my primary browser. It’s no secret that I’ve not been a Firefox fan, other than a brief flirtation when Firefox 2 came out, I’ve been an IE 7 guy. There are several features I like and Firefox 3 has had a recurring memory leak problem which pops up every couple of updates. So, it’s going to take quite a browser to convince me to change my ways. First let me start with the competition.

IE 8

I’m not all that impressed with IE 8 as a new version of IE, it really feels more like IE 7.5. I’ve heard rumors that it’s different under the hood and handles things better. IE 8 is definitely faster, it certainly gives Firefox 3 a run for it’s money. IE 8 still has the thumbnail view of all opened tab, which both Flock and Chrome are missing (I’m running all these browsers stock, no extra plug-ins, plug-ins tend to really increase the memory usage of Firefox). IE 8 also has compatibility mode, a good choice by Microsoft, except it shouldn’t be needed. The biggest complaint about IE 7 has always been standards compliance, one thing that made me start to consider a switch from IE was a problem with WordPress 6.1 which makes it impossible to write a post from IE. Now blame has to be laid at the feet of both WordPress and IE 7, the latest update to 6.2 didn’t fix the IE 7 problem, which is actually a PHP problem, something that should have been easily fixable. Still IE 8 has new compatibility problems thanks to the changes under the hood. With compatibility mode it’s not a deal breaker, but it certainly doesn’t help IE 8’s case. One of the niftiest new features of IE 8 is it color codes tabs so you can see which tabs were opened from other tabs. Makes it easier to organize the millions of tabs I often have opened.

Flock (based on Firefox 3)

Flock is a social web browser. It’s got some interface improvements over Firefox and it’s got a side pane for keeping track of your favorite social networking sites (Twitter and Facebook are the ones I use, MySpace is coming sometime this year but isn’t supported at all yet). It’s every bit as fast as Firefox. The main thing this has going for it is the social networking stuff. Firefox 3 in general while slightly faster than IE 7 isn’t fast enough to negate what I feel is better tab management in IE 7 and when compared to IE 8 Firefox doesn’t even have the speed edge. For other people there are things to like, plug-ins being the main thing really. Plug-ins aren’t for me. The other advantage is built in spell check, which I like, but isn’t a deal breaker. The social networking tools and spell checking in Flock just aren’t enough for me to ditch my thumbnail view and the tab management I prefer in IE 8.

Chrome

Google has got some things right with Chrome. It’s interface is at least as good as IE 8 and Firefox. It’s missing the thumbnail view I like and it doesn’t show you child tabs by color. Those can be forgiven if Chrome gets enough other things right. Chrome has the built in spell checking and matches IE 8 and Firefox 3 in speed tests on my big notebook. Chrome is actually faster on my HP 2133. Tab management in general in Chrome is as good or better than in IE 8, if it just indicated child tabs and had thumbnails. Chrome does a few unconventional things as well, it drops the home button and combines the search box and address bar. Ditching the home key is strange to me, combining search and address bars is completely natural however. Another thing Chrome does is put the tabs at the top of the window. This is nice when working full screen but fairly in different when working windowed, at 1680 x 1050 full screen is a waste of screen real estate.

There has been a lot of talk about the application shortcuts in Chrome. Frankly that’s not all that big of a deal to me. All they are is website shortcuts that open into a tabless and address barless Chrome window. I prefer to keep as few windows opened as possible. The other feature Chrome offers is a set of thumbnails of your most frequently visited websites every time you open a new tab. It’s not bad but it’s not a huge feature by any means. Still with as much time as I spend online a little time saving never hurts.

I talked about compatibility issues in IE 8 (the biggest being google reader, although those are all fixed with compatibility mode). Chrome has it’s own compatibility issues but no mode to fix them. The most noticeable downside is I can’t play my Facebook games, that damn Heroes game is addictive and I don’t even watch the show anymore. The other thing is the WYSIWYG preview in WordPress doesn’t work. What is it about the WordPress write post page that causes problems in browsers? These compatibility issues should be fixed as Chrome moves forward, at least I hope they will be.

Conclusion

One thing I haven’t addressed is security. How secure a browser is is always changing. New exploits are found everyday in both Firefox and IE, I’m sure the same will be true of Chrome. The real question is how quickly will Google respond to these new threats. I’m not sure if there is a streamlined update process for Chrome, we can only hope they don’t expect us to download a new client every time they plug a security hole or add a new feature.

On my HP 2133 Chrome is a no brainer, it runs faster than Firefox or IE 8 on that machine. On a system with more resources the speed difference is negligible but on a slow netbook Chrome is much faster. On my primary machine though I’m still trying to decide. I’ll probably be running Chrome along side either IE 8 or Flock.

Chrome has all the makings of both a Firefox and IE killer and it’s got the Google brand behind it. I think its real strength will be on netbooks and other low end PC’s. In the end though which browser you use is a personal preference just like which OS you use. All I can say is give Chrome a try and see if it’s your cup of tea.

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