Google Chrome first look: it’s fast, very fast

3 Sep 2008

I’m usually quite reticent about installing new browsers on my machines. Generally, they shake the order of things around enough to frustrate me to the point of being cranky and inevitably going back to my trusty Explorer.

While I wasn’t baffled by the revelation that Google had developed its own browser – it was a logical move – I had reservations about how it would pull it off.

First thoughts? It has done so with a relative ease that should in turn make software rivals uneasy. Google Chrome is a sturdy operating system that appears simple, but ‘under the bonnet’ is complex.

In essence, Google can no longer be called just a giant of the search engine world but an emerging force to be reckoned with in the software world.

Over 60pc of tabs on my normal homepage consist of Google products – Reader, iGoogle, Analytics and YouTube. I can’t exist online without the information I need literally micro-seconds away.

A few weeks ago, I was at home trying to install Internet Explorer (IE) 7 and had to contend with multiple upgrades and service pack updates. Eventually, I was in tabbed nirvana.

While I dabbled with Firefox, its usefulness was blemished by the fact that the nice order of things I was used to in terms of the structure of my Exchange page ended up all over the place. I used it sparingly, but noted that on visits to Google’s Dublin operations, every workers’ screen had Firefox.

This morning it took me less than a minute to download Chrome and while orientation took a little longer, I was pleasantly impressed.

First opinion – it’s fast. Very fast. If, like me, you regularly use Google-based online software then you’ll notice everything clicks into place speedily and seamlessly. YouTube users in particular will get this as will users of the Reader service where you could be following thousands of RSS news feeds and still need some structure.

The top bar is uncrowded while all those functions and controls like home, history and favourites are tucked away. For example, for any page you visit and want to make a favourite out of, there’s a little star just right beside the address bar that you just click and voilà, it’s a favourite. This is very reminiscent of starred items in Reader, a favourite function of mine.

To ensure that all my tabbed favourites appear every time I open a new browser window, I went to the little wrench symbol off to the right and clicked on ‘options’, which gave me two other options: ‘minor tweaks’ and ‘under the hood’ for the straightforward and not-so-straightforward stuff you need to do.

Overall, the user interface is clean and uncluttered. The site comes with a number of security features such as blacklists which warns users if they’re visiting harmful sites and indeed notifies site owners if their sites actually contain harmful software.

Sandboxing is a term applied to the fact that each tab in Google Chrome is sandboxed to prevent malware from installing itself – this is similar to the protected mode used by IE 8.

There may be a little kerfuffle of controversy over the ‘incognito window’, which is similar to the ‘InPrivate’ option on Microsoft’s IE 8 that allows users to ensure pages they visit won’t be listed in the browser’s history. This has been jokingly dubbed ‘porn mode’ by the industry, as husbands looking up porn may no longer have any explaining to do to their spouses about their online activities.

The question is that while Mozilla is known to be already working on similar technology for Firefox, and now that both Microsoft and Google have revealed their hands, who really came up with the incognito idea?

Besides these questions, the launch of Google Chrome is a massive statement of intent from Google. The product is easy to use yet technologically complex and sure to open up a whole new world for a company that is only 10 years old this Sunday.

Google has embarked on an exciting new chapter. The internet will never be the same again.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years