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First impressions of Google Chrome

No doubt the big tech story of the week has been the release of the new Google Chrome browser, Google's new entrant into the browser wars. Like many others I downloaded this and gave it a go to see what the fuss was about. So first gripe, the current beta is only for Windows, although we are being promised versions for Linux and the Mac. This is an interesting decision, maybe it was taken as they don't want to aim the product at "geeks"? However, as an old manager of mine used to say, let's "park that thought" for the moment and look at the browser itself. Google came up with a great way to explain their new browser and its features; they did this in the form of a comic book and this can been seen at: http://www.google.com/googlebooks/chrome/. I'm not really into comics or graphical novels, but this made a refreshing change from a white paper or a powerpoint-type presentation, although I must admit my attention was starting to stray at the end! This is well worth reading as it explains the whole project and its features very well.

The lead up to the release (which occurred just before 8pm BST yesterday) was marked by a huge amount of activity on Twitter who recently added the ability to search tweets to their site by acquiring the search engine Summize. For Google this adds up to a heightened awareness of the Chrome brand and instant feedback and opinion on their new product. A side effect of the Chrome launch is that it might mark the coming of age of Twitter as a customer feedback channel. The actual launch event was a traditional presentation which I tried to watch via a link on French Techcrunch, this didn't really work too well though and I had only audio for most of the presentation. I don't know why they couldn't use Flash streaming video for their presentation rather than a choice of Windows Media or RealPlayer formats, I thought we were past all that.

When the actual download became available I downloaded it to an old Windows machine I have and gave it a try. My first impression of it was mixed, maybe a bit of an anti-climax. Chrome is still in beta of course so I'm sure a lot will change before it reaches version 1.0. Firstly, the good things. Using it I got the impression it is well engineered and stable, which is very significant feature to notice in a browser maked as a beta. The user interface is very clean and slick, putting tabs above the address bar is one of those ideas that leaves you thinking "why didn't we always do that?" and I particularly like the decision to combine the address and search bars. This does free up some clutter and makes the browser look easier to use. Running each tab in its own process is a great idea too as a badly behaving site or a problematic Flash site, for example, won't cause your whole browser to be unresponsive or even crash. As web applications become more sophisticated this approach will really pay off and I think that will be the first lesson of Chrome to be adopted by other browsers. On installation is was good to see that you are not forced to use Google as your search engine. It will carry your search engine choice over from your previous browser. Being open source is very welcome as well, this will mean that people can be assured that Google is not using the browser to "spy" on people's browsing habits, if they were this would be revealed by an examination of the code.

So on to the "bad things".My very first impression of the browser was that it is quite basic. I'm hoping that it will acquire a bigger feature set before final release. It lacks a mechanism for plugins, making it difficult to customise the browser to your needs. This for me has been a big winning feature of Firefox, plugins are a great way to extend and expand functionality, and only for those who want that functionality (avoiding bloat). They are also a great way to experiment with new features or concepts in web browsing (for example Mozilla's Ubiquity project. The browser also doesn't have any RSS functionality, which will make it less appealing to those who like to keep up with a large number of websites. I would be surprised if these two shortcomings are not addressed before final release. There is also no Web 2.0/social element to the browser. I'm currently using Flock which makes many attempts to integrate your web browser experience with Web 2.0 sites, and it would have been nice to see innovation in this area. A showstopper for me is the lack of integration with delicious.com, I don't want to keep my bookmarks offline. It's example of where you need a plugin architecture, or supply it out of the box as Flock does.

I can't help but to think back to when I first started using Firefox (beta version 0.8). Back then virtually everybody used IE6 and the contrast of what Firefox could offer compared to IE6 was very stark, it was the first time many people had used a tabbed browser for example. It was a very impressive experience. Chrome did not leave me with that impression, it seemed a little basic, although maybe it will only shine once websites become more demanding in terms of the user experience they are trying to provide,and go much further in attempting to blur the line between offline and online experiences.

The future for Chrome is difficult to predict. Some have said it is a potential Windows killer, and if you look at the comments for any of the coverage on Google Chrome there will be people saying that it is unlikely that Internet Explorer users will switch, as one comment stated: "It’s Firefox that will suffer, not IE. Many IE users wouldn’t know how to change browser, nor why they might want to". I would suspect that Google must be planning a powerful marketing campaign to drive their new browser forward. Such a campaign could potentially convince people that they should make the switch. It isn't impossible to persuade people to move away from IE, as some say, after all it has been done before with Firefox, but persuading everyday users that this is something they should do could be a difficult challenge. Potentially it is the marking campaign and persuasion that could prove to be the most interesting aspect of Chrome.

Comments

i agree, FF will most likely feel the competition but the fact that firefox is very flexible in terms of functionality. I havent really found any reason yet to switch to chrome.

http://mayweather-pacquiao-live.blogspot.com

More than a year after its launch, Chrome is still failing to impress me..

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