Google Chrome

Last night I saw a link to scans of a comic book of sorts drawn by Scott McCloud. He drew it for the debut of a new web browser coming from Google itself, called Google Chrome. Even if you’re not a geek or not deeply into web browsers, I would recommend you check out the comic because it is blindingly brilliant.

I don’t mean to slather the praise on too thick, but outside of Apple’s famous Stevenotes, this little comic book is the best presentation of a new product that I have ever seen. In the space of about 15 minutes it becomes clear that Google started this browser with a very blank sheet of paper and asked a lot of game-changing “What if?” and “Why?” questions. In the hands of McCloud, complex ideas become fluid, and the reader is gently brought through the conceptual motivation behind the browser in a way that really makes one hungry to actually use it. When’s the last time you saw a browser presented with conceptual motives rather than features? Some of the concepts naturally become features, of course, but I’ll bet Google Chrome will, in its early iterations, back up my opinion that ideology-driven software tends to be good software.

Fortuitously, Google released Google Chrome today, so I didn’t have to wait too long after reading the comic book to try it out. Google has currently only released Chrome for Windows, but a Mac OS X client isn’t far behind. (I’ve got Boot Camp and VMware Fusion anyhow.)

Let me give you a quick list of the things I really like about it. I hate to post spoilers of the comic book if you haven’t read it, but if you’re not interested in reading it, then take this as an editorial list of some of Chrome’s interesting points:

  • Designed to crash and hang far less than your current browser. Because… science! (Short version.) If one tab hangs because of a misbehaving website, in most cases your other tabs won’t get punished.
  • Less memory usage over time than other browsers.
  • Uses WebKit, the same rendering engine Safari (on Mac OS X, Windows, or the iPhone) and OmniWeb use. That’s nice because, in general, if a web developer makes sure their pages work in Safari or OmniWeb, they’ll probably already work well in Chrome.
  • Uses a cutting-edge, blindingly-fast open source JavaScript engine called V8
  • Has better, more-complete automated testing than other browsers (probably) have by utilizing Google’s massive website-crawling infrastructure, which is already in place. Also uses Google’s PageRank to prioritize testing. In retrospect, this is a complete no-brainer.
  • Uses the “Omnibox”, which combines the address bar and Google-powered look-ahead search in one box. You will find it vastly superior within five minutes of using it, and miss it when you are in another browser.
  • Also allows the user to search specific websites with keyboard shortcuts via the Omnibox, no special programming or preference customizing required.
  • Has a dynamic “home page” in every new tab created by the user that is automatically customized over time with the sites you use and search with the most.
  • Limits pop-ups without making the ones you actually want to see difficult to find.
  • Contains a built-in ability to turn any web application into a customized stand-alone application you can launch from your desktop. This essentially promotes web applications to feel more like normal desktop apps. (Mac OS X geeks have already experienced this with Fluid.)
  • Has built-in protection against malware and phishing scams.

Certainly all these claims will need to be tested in the real world by real users, but this browser has a very good feel to it initially, and the buzz on the web is confirming that. It’s fast, it’s sexy, and it’s here, at least in beta. If you’re on Windows or you can run Windows, go check it out. I’m not suggesting we all leave Firefox or Safari yet (though if you’re using Internet Explorer, yes, I’m suggesting you leave it) but this browser is one to watch.

I will be most interested to see how (or if) the Safari team responds to these innovations. The Omnibox feels so obvious now that it would be impossible not to copy it.