With 90+ percent of my desktop computing conducted from within Firefox, and half the Internet services I use supplied by Google, the opportunity to test Google’s new “Chrome” browser was irresistible. Here are my first impressions.
I headed over to Google’s Chrome site to download the browser’s initial beta release, only to discover that it’s currently only available in a Windows version.
A few minutes after rebooting the Black Tower into Vista (it’s handy having Vista available for occasions like this), Chrome was download, installed, and in operation.
My initial impressions? It looks very promising, if a bit incomplete.
Given that Chrome is based, in part, on some highly-mature open source components — such as Apple’s Webkit and Mozilla’s Firefox — Google didn’t have to completely reinvented the browser wheel. Consequently, the first beta seems quite usable right out of the chute. And, it’s lightening fast!
On the other hand, the beta lacks a number of must-have functions such as “Send Link,” and configuration options like the ability to customize web page fonts, colors, etc. (Of course, it may be that I simply didn’t manage to locate some of these options in my quick first look at Chrome.)
In any case, if Google is serious about advancing Chrome, I won’t be surprised if virtually everything I’ve come to depend on — and love — about Firefox eventually gets incorporated into the upstart browser, since they’re both open-source projects.
Below are an assortment of screenshots that capture some of my first impressions — click each for a larger view.
Google’s new Chrome browser beta on Vista
(Click each image for a larger view)
Why do we need a new browser, anyhow?
That’s the big question that hit me the moment I learned of Google’s Chrome beta browser release. Why a new browser? Why didn’t Google simply participate in — and contribute to — Mozilla’s Firefox project, instead?
I suspect the answer to that question is that well-established projects like Mozilla are governed by their own sets of priorities, and Google of course has its own — and its customers’ — interests to serve. Additionally, it’s difficult to get an established project to shift gears rapidly, whereas a new project has no inertia to overcome.
Here’s Google’s explanation for why it’s developing the Chrome browser:
“So why are we launching Google Chrome? Because we believe we can add value for users and, at the same time, help drive innovation on the web.
All of us at Google spend much of our time working inside a browser. We search, chat, email and collaborate in a browser. And in our spare time, we shop, bank, read news, and keep in touch with friends — all using a browser. Because we spend so much time online, we began seriously thinking about what kind of browser could exist if we started from scratch and built on the best elements out there. We realized that the web had evolved from mainly simple text pages to rich, interactive applications and that we needed to completely rethink the browser. What we really needed was not just a browser, but also a modern platform for web pages and applications, and that’s what we set out to build.
On the surface, we designed a browser window that is streamlined and simple. To most people, it isn’t the browser that matters. It’s only a tool to run the important stuff — the pages, sites and applications that make up the web. Like the classic Google homepage, Google Chrome is clean and fast. It gets out of your way and gets you where you want to go.
I certainly can’t argue with these goals, although I assume the Mozilla Firefox project has similar ones.
On the other hand, I worry that the introduction of a new browser by the Big Internet Kahuna will further fragment the browser market and, as a result, slow or even reverse recent gains by Firefox over Internet Explorer.
With that in mind, it’s interesting to read Mozilla CEO John Lily’s thoughts on Chrome, posted today on his blog:
It should come as no real surprise that Google has done something here — their business is the web, and they’ve got clear opinions on how things should be, and smart people thinking about how to make things better. Chrome will be a browser optimized for the things that they see as important, and it’ll be interesting to see how it evolves.
… How does this affect Mozilla? As much as anything else, it’ll mean there’s another interesting browser that users can choose. With IE, Firefox, Safari, Opera, etc — there’s been competition for a while now, and this increases that. So it means that more than ever, we need to build software that people care about and love. Firefox is good now, and will keep on getting better.
Well, time will tell. In general, I like some of what I’ve already seen in Chrome, as well as some of the planned enhancements, and can easily envision the best of both Chrome and Firefox eventually being combined to create world’s best — and most popular — browser.
Don’t miss the Google Chrome Comic Book
Meanwhile, Google has published an entertaining and informative “comic book” that summarizes the current goals of the new Chrome browser, and explains a few key technologies that are being developed to meet those goals. You can read the 40-page Chrome Comic Book here