Cloud Computing: A Google Chrome Review

Published 09/05/08 00:00:00

So the cat is out of the bag. Google Chrome has been released. For those who haven’t heard of it, Google Chrome is a browser in which Google designed the way they think a browser should be: a desktop application for web applications.

Simply put, Chrome is a web browser. But of course, with Google, it’s not just a simple browser. Chrome uses the Webkit engine, the very same engine that powers Safari. Webkit is a lot like Gecko, the engine that powers Mozilla Firefox, only faster. A lot faster. And as with all things Google touches, Webkit was greatly improved, hence it is really much faster than what Safari is using, and it all boils down to how fast the browser can interpret, or execute, javascript. And since Google relies heavily on javascript for its web applications, such as GMail, Google Calendar, etc. Google designed its own javascript handler for Webkit. Instead of letting Webkit use its own javascript handler, Google redesigned how Webkit handles javascript. Instead of one process handling multiple threads of javascript, they decided it would be better to have multiple processes handling one thread of javascript. This would make the web application respond faster and more stable. At least, that’s how I understood it from their comic.

I’ve been using Chrome since its launch. It doesn’t have any extensions available yet, and I haven’t seen an option to add some, but it is still too early in the beta stage to expect something as robust as Mozilla Firefox 3. And Google promises to release an API for developers, so it would simply be a matter of time before extensions, add-ons, or hacks start popping up.

What I like about Chrome is the way it lets you maximize the virtual real estate you see when viewing web pages. There is no menu bar, just a button to house the browser options and other settings, and another button that houses options for the web page itself. The status bar usually found at the bottom of the window is only there when hovering over a link or when loading a page. It fades out as soon as the page finishes loading. As with tabbed browsing, the tabs are up top, away from the web page’s content. The focus is on the content, not on the browser. There are times that I forget I have other tabs open simply because I was too focused on what I was doing on one tab. The navigation buttons are simple, and there is no stop button. Since you can always press the Esc key to stop loading a web page, you don’t have to bother moving your mouse to click on the stop button. Also, the home button has become optional since they introduced the New Tab page. It displays thumbnail screenshots of the nine (9) most recent web pages you have frequented, and it also displays a list of your most recently closed tabs. It also displays a list of your recent bookmarks. And speaking of bookmarks, it is optional to have it integrated with the browser itself. I wonder when and how they will integrate Chrome with a Google Account. Incognito browsing lets you “plan a surprise party” with confidence that no one will know what you were doing. The “Omnibox” integrates the address bar and the search bar, taking a page from Mozilla Firefox 3’s Awesome bar but a little more “evolved.” And Chrome has its own task manager.

I’m loving Chrome so far, but I have seen some quirks and eccentrities in its ingenuity. One is the overflowing text when typing in a text field in Plurk. It may be a CSS issue, or a Plurk issue, since I haven’t seen this appear in other sites. That, or I’m not websurfing enough. Another is the smoothness of rounded corners. Although it supports CSS-enabled rounded corners due to Webkit’s standards compliance, Mozilla Firefox renders the rounded corners more smoothly. Ajax is sometimes quirky, but most of the time, it works, and it’s the same with Flash – videos or sites itself. I can’t say much about Gears as I don’t encounter much implementations as I should. Chrome is also resource hungry, as my desktop PC slowed to a crawl when my antivirus started its scheduled scan. I also checked the task manager, the Windows Task Manager, and it indicated that Chrome used about half of my physical memory. Also, a bug I found in Chrome is when I tried accessing my router. I didn’t bother setting up a password for it, so I just leave the username field blank, and typed in the default password. Chrome would not let me proceed without filling in the username field. So I went back to Firefox to setup a router password and then tried Chrome to try accessing my router again. With the admin username and the password I set, it allowed me to access the router admin page. Chrome may have forced me to add a router password, but it should let me in and do exactly that using Chrome itself. I wonder how Google will address this in Mac and Linux. I would so love it if Chrome’s Linux version had an Ubuntu-flavored color/theme.

Features I would like to see added to Chrome in the future would be the ability to change the color of the window, or theming capabilities. Also, the ability to add extensions that are much like FireFTP, Stumbleupon, Delicious, and Foxmarks. I would have asked for Firebug, but when I tried the Inspect Element in the context menu, it showed me something that was achingly, very similar to Firebug.

After searching for Chrome tips and tricks, hacks, and such, I stumbled upon an article from TechCrunch that may have proven what Google is actually aiming for, and it made sense. Google, with Chrome, is not really aiming for, or joining, a browser war. Right now, I’m about 70% sure I’ll switch to Chrome and leave Firefox forever. But it’s not just that. Google is joining the OS wars. With everything being put in the cloud these days, one would only need a browser to do whatever they need to do. And computers are being developed to simply use a browser without an operating system. The birth of the cloud computer is near.

To Google and the Chrome developers, a tip of the hat or a pat on the back may not be enough and a big thank you is all I can manage to give you. This is a job well done. You may be evil, but you are so good at being evil. I simply can’t wait for the next iteration of this great application.

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