OpenSearch support in Chrome is weird.

Chrome's internal task manager: each tab in Chrome runs as a seperate process.

Chrome handles self-signed SSL certificates with aplomb.
I find Google's latest to be promising, but incomplete

Now that Google Chrome is available to us, what will we think of it? With that in mind, I set out to give it a spin with my daily browsing activities, just to see how much I like it.

Unfortunately, at this time my opinion of Chrome is rather mixed. On one hand, I like what Google’s team is trying to do: isolating individual tabs into separate processes is a really neat idea, and the inclusion of an internal task manager certainly makes figuring out what screwed up even easier. The same goes with its ballyhooed Javascript enhancements, which Google dubs “V8” and is supposed to precompile Javascript code so that it runs much faster.

One the other hand, there are a show-stopping amount of missing, missed features.

So before I get into my thoughts, I just want to note that this is the first release of a product dubbed “beta”. I still haven’t determined if that moniker is used in its Web 2.0 definition of the word – as in, something that feels like a finished product but has a moving featureset – or the true software development sense of the word, as so far I have yet to experience any stability problems. Many of these complaints could easily vanish within the next couple of months if Google’s engineers think Chrome is as feature-incomplete as I argue it to be.

Please note that this writeup consists of initial impressions, not a full or complete review of the program.

So without further adeu, these are my thoughts on Chrome, both good and bad. They are in no particular order:

  • No search bar. One of the most visible differences with Chrome is its lack of a search bar. At first, I thought that Google dispensed with the feature altogether – though that doesn’t make any sense – but playing with the browser a bit more revealed that your address bar doubles as a search bar.

  • Funky OpenSearch support. Chrome supports OpenSearch, but its implementation is weird. I could not find an easy way to add an OpenSearch provider unless the site itself has a link to do so – whereas in Firefox and IE you can a add provider for most any site supporting it with two clicks. To use DailyTech’s OpenSearch feture, you have to type “”  as a prefix and then your search query; to search for articles containing the string “RIAA”, one types “ RIAA”. I can see this becoming very annoying for websites with long domain names.

  • No extensions! This is very much a dealbreaker for me. I run about a dozen or so extensions on my Firefox install, and a handful of these extensions are irreplaceable due to regular use. I simply cannot comfortably surf the web without my precious buttons, or DownThemAll!, or DownloadHelper, or BugMeNot. When you have 40+ tabs open while working – as I often do – AdBlock is indispensable.

  • Chrome is not afraid to cater to geeks. It’s nice being able to use a piece of software without being slapped in the face for having the gall to possess computer literacy. Windows, Mac OS X, Ubuntu, Internet Explorer, and Firefox, and many others seem to have contempt towards those not afraid of details and a real error message, and this is very frustrating. Chrome takes the correct approach: present users with a basic set of options, and then bury the nuts and bolts behind an “advanced” type button or link. Ideally, it’s the best of both worlds: newbies get their hands held, and power users get their control. The Task Manager and “Stats for nerds”  features are shining examples of how to treat users both novice and adept. That said, however, the “Options” panel is distinctly lacking in stuff to tweak.

  • No plug-in management. One of my favorite features of Firefox 3 is the ability to enable and disable browser plug-ins (Adobe Reader, Quicktime Player, and so on) at my whim. A particularly nice touch is the fact that I can do so without restarting – very helpful for those 40+ tab situations. Want to play an MP3 in your browser? Enable the Quicktime plugin. Want to then download that MP3 from a site that doesn’t give you an easy way to do so? Hit the back button, disable the Quicktime plugin, and click the link again. Chrome does not seem to have a way to manage plug-ins at all, unless you want to pick them off one by one in its Task Manager.

  • Lots of nice, little touches. Highlighting the domain name in black is a nice touch. The Gmail-style status bar is a nice touch. The overall minimalism shines to create an experience that allows the user to focus on browsing, without being surrounded by visual clutter.

  • Middle mouse button does not scroll. Another beloved feature in Firefox, Microsoft Word, Internet Explorer, and nearly every other Windows application I use is the ability to quickly scroll through a document using the middle mouse button. Its absence in Chrome is another dealbreaker for me. Sometimes, the scroll wheel is simply is not fast enough to move through data at the speed I want it to. (This is also a sore point for me in desktop Linux…)

  • An unfortunate choice of names. Chrome, in the context of computer interfaces, is also used to refer to the “visible graphic interface features of an application” such as buttons, widgets, text boxes, and so on. I see this term used a lot when referring to Mozilla’s windowing toolkit, on which applications like Firefox and Thunderbird are built. The Jargon File, a hacker glossary of sorts, refers to chrome as “Showy features added to attract users but contributing little or nothing to the power of a system … Often used as a term of contempt.” I don’t see this being a major problem, but couldn’t Google have chosen something different?

  • Excellent handling of self-signed SSL certificates: living in the dark underbelly of the ongoing war against improperly-signed SSL certificates are the home server geeks, small business network administrators, and anyone else who uses SSL for personal applications. With both Firefox 3 and Internet Explorer 7 requiring users to jump through an unacceptable number of hoops to access a site with improperly-signed (“unpaid”) SSL certificates – regardless of whether it’s your home server, or a suspicious page hosted in Russia – it’s nice to see Google engineers taking the sensible approach. Users are notified of the invalid certificate, and the https text is rendered red and with a slash – but the warning only takes a single click to bypass (unlike Firefox), and the correct button to click is placed intuitively (unlike IE7). Thank you, Google.

Despite my complaints, I like where Chrome is heading. The project’s intentions seem reminiscent of the original vision of Firefox: a minimalist browsing experience. Firefox, of course, wanted users to supplement its purposeful deficiencies with extensions – which it now has, in spades – but I don’t think anybody except Google itself knows how that’s going to work out in Chrome.

With that said, I want to note that I am beginning to look into suitable replacements for Firefox: as the browser’s focus seems to have shifted from the optimized, lightweight browsing experience detailed around the transition to version 1.0, into a populist-yet-customizable alternative browser for the masses that we see in current versions, it feels more and more like Firefox is becoming the browser it originally set out to replace. Could Chrome be the answer to my search? I don’t know yet – but the future certainly looks promising.

"We’re Apple. We don’t wear suits. We don’t even own suits." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs
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