Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Gleam of Chrome

For the past few days - I've made Google's new browser - Chrome the default browser on my system - just to give it a proper test drive.

Ok, so Firefox 3 was eating tons of memory (it even popped into virtual memory on occasion) because I keep a bazillion tabs open in each of 4 or 5 windows. Now, I'm heavily invested in Firefox - it has all the bookmarks, quick links, certain site passwords, etc. all set up - so making the switch for me was a bit difficult.

I decided to take a man pill - and tough it out - and frankly, I'm glad I did.

I'm not one of those users that has 50,000 plug-ins and extensions in my browser - I use my browser to, well, just browse the web. I don't expect it to do my laundry and wash my car - just serve up pages quickly and let me have 1,000,000 tabs open in 5 windows and not slow down or crash.

The interface (or lack thereof) takes a bit of getting used to - it's unlike any browser you've used before. It has a tabbed interface (duh!), but the tabs are above the address bar, not below it. There is no "File", "Edit" menus - and there's not even a "home" button. There are two icons to the right of the address bar that contain all the commands you'll ever use (and keyboard equivalents for everything).

One more thing - there's no title bar (that thing that would normally have the icon and shows the title of the page - with the minimize and maximize buttons on it). NOPE! Not there. Google's intent was to make the browsing experience as stripped down (UI wise) as possible - but still make it powerful.

Each tab is, in effect, it's own browser - so if one page blows up - it doesn't take the whole application down - it just blows that one tab up. Me likkie. The other thing that's interesting - is that because it was built from the ground up to be optimized for browsing - there are some cool, albeit somewhat hidden, features that give you almost too much information about what's going on under the hood.

For example, choosing Developer -> Task Manager (or Shift + Esc) - you can see how much memory every open tab is taking - and how much memory plug-ins (like Flash) are consuming and you can kill any process at any time with the click of a button.

If you're really into code - check out the Element Inspector. Just right click on any object on a page and you'll see the Inspector window come up with the HTML of the page with the selected object highlighted. It will also show you all the CSS information and JavaScript in a collapsible tree view that you can navigate.

There are a ton of other features in there - like when you open a new tab rather than it being blank it shows the 9 most visited sites. Also, when you open a new tab manually - it goes to the far right like you would expect, but when you click on a link in a page and have set it up to open a new window in a new tab - it will open the new tab directly to the right of the selected tab. This really makes it easy to hop back and forth - and is just one example of the neato features that just work.

There are a ton of other features in there - if you're interested you should have a look at the ComputerWorld article by Preston Gralla - he goes into terrific details about how to use them and where they are.

If your idea of what a browser should be is just a browser that's optimized for browsing - and you're on Windows (for now) - then I would highly recommend you check out Chrome.

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