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  • Google Chrome: Does the World Need Another Browser?

    December 9th, 2009

    While Google seems to be becoming more and more competitive with the PC world when it comes to browsers and, in fact, operating systems, I think some of you might forget that they are in a different business. Although they get a small income from the enterprise version of Google Apps, the vast majority of their revenue comes from advertising.

    So whenever you do a Google search, you see specially targeted ads in the results. Free versions of their products, including Gmail, also include ads that are focused on you depending on your email habits. Although Google claims they protect your privacy, they still know lots about you.

    When it comes to the Android operating system, they give it away to wireless phone makers. But the apps that you run on those phones that are provided by Google include the ads from which they derive their real payment. The same is true for the forthcoming Google Chrome OS. All right, there is their new DNS service, designed to replace the one that is provided by your ISP, but their ultimate goal, other than tracking Web surfing patterns, isn’t clear.

    As you might expect, Google is heavily involved in the Web browser business. A large portion of the funding for Mozilla, which delivers Firefox, comes from the Google search feature that is that browser’s default. Apple also provides a fair amount of income to Google courtesy of the search features in Safari for the Mac, Windows and the iPhone.

    That takes us to the Google Chrome browser. Although it uses the WebKit rendering engine, same as Apple’s Safari, Chrome actually came out on the Windows platform first, surprisingly enough, or maybe their marketing people decided they could generate more paid clicks that way. Regardless, a Mac version has finally reached public beta, after being available in an alpha version for quite a long time.

    Without going into the raw details, it’s always nice to see another entrant in the browser wars. But whether or not Chrome is something that large numbers of people will or should adopt is an open question. Frankly, I don’t find any reason to choose it in place of Firefox, Opera, Safari or any other contender.

    I’ll be brief about features and capability, but I’m not going to render a final verdict, forgive the pun. It’s still quite early in the development process, and the missing features might eventually appear.

    Since Chrome uses WebKit, I didn’t expect much of a difference between Google’s contender and Safari in actually displaying Web pages. Early benchmarks indicate Safari is faster, but these are the sort of differences that involve fractions of a second and thus can be safely ignored unless there’s some serious glitch one way or the other.

    My particular bugaboo is the apparent inability of Chrome to display the QuickTime player on our radio show sites. This is actually the first time I’ve observed such behavior on a beta browser in recent years, and I wonder if it is in part related to the problem that I confirmed with their DNS service. In that case, Apple’s QuickTime Broadcaster, which is used to stream our radio shows to the Web server, would hang upon launch. Switching to OpenDNS, the one that I prefer anyway because of its expanded features for safety and reliability, cured the problem. And, yes folks, I’m in touch with a Google product manager about this problem and it does appear to have been resolved as of the last time I tested a Broadcaster stream. But performance advantages among the public DNS services are often so slight as to be barely detectible in the real world.

    Another issue with the Chrome beta is the apparent inability to properly manage bookmarks brought over from other browsers. While that may not be a significant matter for some of you, I do know of people who have dozens and dozens of bookmarks and intricately-sorted folders for whom this missing feature will make Chrome a non-starter.

    On the other hand, I suppose a minimalist application has its place and certainly Chrome seems to mate reasonably well into a Mac environment. Indeed, the advantages are certainly obvious. Fewer features mean a reduced learning curve, a smaller number of preferences to set and, in the end, make it possible for you to concentrate more on the actual browsing experience.

    This isn’t to say I will never use Chrome except for brief testing. Competition is good, and I’m always looking for better ways to get things done. That’s why I always keep such innovative products as Opera in my Web surfing arsenal, since there are always great ideas inherent in that relatively lightweight application, ideas that once included the original iteration of tabs and other features that eventually were adopted by other companies.

    In the scheme of things, it’s perfectly all right for Google to want to expand its income base with free software and operating systems. Certainly, Chrome has already gotten extremely positive reviews on the Windows platform, and the Mac version seems, well, promising.

    On the other hand, I’ve seen nothing to make me want to switch browsers, at least not yet. But I could change my mind as Chrome is updated for the Mac.



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    12 Responses to “Google Chrome: Does the World Need Another Browser?”

    1. pila says:

      It is extremly fast, faster then any other browser, what is very important if you are on a slower internet connection.

      The addressbar is also the searchbar, what is so convienient and handy.

    2. dfs says:

      I’m not so sure I buy the idea that browser speed is all that important, or that speed comparisons between browsers made in somebody’s laboratory are useful indicators of real-world performance, since a number of other factors go into determining how fast a given Web page displays on your screen. Even if you have the fastest browser in the world, for example, if you visit a site with a slow server it won’t help you a bit. Another limiting factor, of course, is the performance of your i. s. p. service. ice.

    3. Bob Ketcham says:

      Gene,

      The question you should ask is “Does the world need a better browser?” It is clear from features in the PC version and not yet in the Mac version that Chrome on the PC is a better browser. It offers improved stability, a cleaner, simpler interface and the ability to save cloud applications as separate applications. It is slick.

      Like Picasa before it, I found features in the PC app that made me covet the PC app over the Mac app I was using. In Picasa’s case, that was iPhoto. In Chrome’s case, that is Safari. When I use my PC, I prefer Chrome over the PC version of Safari.

      Chrome is not there yet on the Mac. While Chrome on the Mac appears to be stable, given the features left out of the program, it should not have received a Beta designation. A beta version should not have come out without a bookmark manager.

      Chrome on the PC is also faster than Safari on the PC. At this point while Chrome on the Mac is the second fastest browser on the Mac, it is still about 10-12% slower than Safari. I expect almost all of that difference will be eliminated by making Chrome available as a 64 bit application.

      Keep up the good work Google. I look forward to a better browser.

      Bob

      • I find that a lot of these so-called features are often subtle enhancements that would be lost on most users. I will be happy to work with Chrome as it is developed, but there’s not anything there yet that is so compelling as to make me want to switch from Safari. Besides, I still think Opera gets most of the good ideas first.

        When it comes to performance, canned benchmarks can tell you only so much. In the real world, most major browsers seem pretty much the same given an identical configuration and ISP. Then there’s Internet Explorer, which is another matter entirely.

        Peace,
        Gene

        • Bob Ketcham says:

          @Gene Steinberg, Gene,

          Yes many subtle enhancements are lost on most users, but simplicity and speed are primary reasons many of us pay more for a Mac. I am often impressed that Google can out-Apple Apple in many of its endeavors, delivering simple software that just works. Chrome isn’t there yet, but I trust that it will be.

          Some subtle enhancements can prove quite useful. For example, when working with the PC version, I was very impressed with the ability to save a web page as an application. My Dad is in his eighties and the simpler I can make his computer to use, the better. I was able to save desktop applications for his web mail, news and weather. While this might sound a lot like a bookmark, it had a couple of relevantly useful features. First, mail was just mail… no other browser features to get in the way / confuse. Second, the web page icon appeared on the desktop, making the app easy to distinguish (something not true of most desktop bookmarks). With these icons on the desktop, his daily computer tasks were made easier. He liked that.

          In the end, I moved Dad to a Mac. Windows ate the PC’s hard drive and I set him up with a 2004 PowerBook. When I did, he wanted similar desktop icons for those daily tasks. By creating desktop bookmarks and replacing the icons by hand, I was able to give him a partially similar experience. It was frustrating that I could do that better on a PC with Chrome than I could on a Mac.

          Of course, speed is always better. Many people will pay extra for a faster processor and then neglect to pick the fastest browser, DNS services, network components, etc. When something that is free or cheap speeds things up, I am delighted. I have been quite happy with the recent speedups afforded by Snow Leopard and Safari 4. These are far more than canned benchmarks. My wife and I swap Macs back and forth. I use Safari and she uses Firefox. So, I swap in and out of browsers on both machines. Firefox is much slower in real use. Chrome really is on a par with Safari.

          And peace to you,

          Bob

    4. MichaelT says:

      Gene, I don’t understand your comment about not being able to import bookmarks. Can’t you do that under the Chrome heading in the menu bar? Is that not what you are talking about?

      • @MichaelT, You’re right. That feature suddenly appeared with the last silent update. It sort of works even, but the ability to actually manage bookmarks is grayed out. Call it half a loaf.

        Peace,
        Gene

        • MichaelT says:

          @Gene Steinberg, As to the rest of your comments, though, I agree. On initial trial, I don’t find Chrome compellingly distinct from Safari. I don’t see any unique features that I Must Have.

          For now I’ll stick with IE 5.2 until something better comes along. Hahaha.

          Not.

    5. BrianP says:

      I have been using Chrome as my primary browser the last few days and noticed a few issues. It doesn’t seem to render tables correctly. At the Apple discussions the iPhone forum was incorrectly rendered and an error message was given. It also had a problem when I submitted a PDF 100kb upload at a well known job site Dice and acted as though it didn’t complete. In addition the speed sometimes seems slower than Safari/Firefox when it is actually loading webpages. I don’t notice any slowdown on broadband connections with Firefox/Safari but noticed it with Chrome.

      I used Chromium in the past and it seemed better than Chrome for Mac honestly. I am also using the new Thunderbird which is fantastic and a great example of Open Source. Perhaps since I both have them running there is an incompatibility I haven’t learned about yet. Since I am testing both of them, they are currently the only applications that I have open with 2 GB of ram.

      If Chrome continues to have issues I will fall back to Firefox and then Safari. Safari while cool seems to crash at sites like Hulu and YouTube while watching video. I expect that in time Chrome will be better than Firefox and Safari, but so far it isn’t there.

      Competition is always good. Let the best survive has served innovation well.

    6. Alan Smith says:

      I had tried earlier versions of Chrome and found it to be very barren, crashed a lot and had nothing that Opera, Firefox, Camino, or Safari didn’t have. I really have no desire to try Chrome again. It sounds like Google is approaching software development ala Microsoft. Develop a lot of pre-release versions; release a crappy beta, and then tell everyone that the next version will be so much better.

      And who said that they are outdoing Apple? Hah, what baloney. Google is good at search engines. Everything else is not mediocre.

      Google has become the new Microsoft. i really do not like that they keep EVERYTHING that you have searched and must have a huge database on everyone in the U.S. Now who is evil, MS or Google. Seems like the latter.

      • @Alan Smith, In passing, my tests of that other entrant from the company, Google DNS, show it to be slower than most of the others. I used an app called namebench, which actually checks your browser history and tests the sites you visit against various public DNS servers to list the fastest one. Each time you run this test, the results will be different, but Google DNS will seldom rise to the top. I believe OpenDNS offers some important security advantages, which is why they are successful. But if you don’t want those things, your ISP’s DNS should be sufficient. Most are fast; only a few slow you down in any way that you’ll ever detect without sophisticated benchmarking tools.

        Peace,
        Gene

    7. Alan Smith says:

      @ Gene,
      Nice article. Thank you for your impartial review.

      Peace,
      Alan

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