Why Google Chrome is already a great browser


— 5:40 PM on September 2, 2008

So, you've seen the news. Google has released an early beta of its first web browser, Chrome, which mixes elements from Safari and Firefox into a brand-new recipe. I could go into detail about the browser's fundamentals and features, but you might as well just try it yourself and read the introductory Google comic strip if you're after details.

Since I've ranted and raved about Internet Explorer 8 in two separate blog posts, I feel like sharing my perspective on a different effort. After all, Chrome has much in common with IE8. Both browsers come from massive software companies with gargantuan budgets, both browsers are early betas, and both browsers are more than simple evolutions from prior designs. Microsoft decided to outfit IE8 with a completely new rendering engine, while Google borrowed some of Chrome's building blocks from other browsers but built everything else from scratch.

IE8 and Chrome are radically different designs, however. Whereas I believe the former is a jumbled mess of superficial features with a still-unfinished rendering engine, Chrome has a very solid base and a more spartan feature set. In my previous blog post, I said, "If Microsoft really wants to make a good browser again, it needs to stop trying to outshine the competition with glitter and fluff, and it needs to focus all its efforts on making a browser that's faster, more reliable, and with better standards support than the rest." After using Chrome for a few hours, I now think that's exactly what Google has done.

You see, Chrome doesn't dazzle users with gigantic contextual menus and user-interface fluff. As soon as you take it for a spin around your favorite sites, though, you see what Google has been spending its time on. Chrome is freaking fast. Faster than Safari, Firefox 3, and definitely IE8. The user interface is stripped to the bone, too, but it's delightfully snappy and has a certain elegance that makes it look and feel just right.

More importantly, Chrome renders pretty much everything fine even at this early stage in its development. I won't shower Google with too much praise for that, since it just used Apple's open-source WebKit engine (itself a fork of the KDE team's KHTML engine) as a foundation. That's fine, though. The important thing is that Google didn't have its priorities out of whack, unlike a certain company in Redmond, Washington that's been making browsers for a lot longer. The Chrome developers focused on building a fast, reliable, and standards-compliant browser first, even if that meant keeping peripheral features to a bare minimum.

And Chrome really does have few peripheral features. I couldn't find a bookmarks manager, an RSS feed reader, a way to add or remove interface elements, or even a "Home" button (that's in the options). Despite those omissions, I just love browsing with Chrome. It's sleek, fast, and smooth, and I'm perfectly happy to wait for Google to add features, because Chrome fulfills its primary functions well. It renders pages fine; it's fast; it's not a memory hog, and it has enough security features to keep me happy—from blocking pop-ups to blocking my access to potentially dangerous sites. Like IE8, Chrome even includes an "incognito" mode for users who want to surf without leaving a trace.

In short, Chrome covers pretty much all the bases despite its 0.2.149.27 version number and early beta status. I'm really looking forward to see where Google is going with this. If it implements support for third-party add-ons and I can get mouse gesture support going, I may well desert Firefox after six long years of using nothing but Mozilla browsers. I can't say the same for IE8.

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