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.

Five Years of Blogging

This blog’s fifth anniversary recently passed. I posted my first entry here on May 28th, 2003, and it’s been an interesting ride ever since. (When I started this blog, I had no intention of ever becoming a web developer. Then I fell in love with web standards and web authoring, and now it’s my profession.)

People routinely ask me, “Why do you blog?” Sometimes they get really honest and come right out and say, “Aren’t you worried about privacy?” Privacy is definitely something I think about and feel strongly about. I’ve been reading (and listening) to Cory Doctorow’s new book Little Brother lately, and it has certainly brought privacy issues to the forefront of my mind. But at least with this blog, I get to choose what’s private and what’s not. That’s not a lack of privacy, that’s perfect privacy: controlled by the individual about whom the information is kept.

There are several reasons I blog. Lemme ‘splain it.

  • Recording personal history. This is probably the biggest reason of them all. This blog is a digital heirloom that I will pass on to my children and my children’s children, on and on forever. It won’t take much room to store: the contents of the entire database with all my entries and all the comments from you folks is currently only 3.1 MB in size. If you add all the photos, movies, and other random bits of junk, it inflates to 350 MB. However, in the year 2070, that’ll be nothing. (You can already fit 4 GB of data under your tongue.) Yes, I really do expect these writings to last that long and far longer. I wish I had journals and writings (or English translations of them since I don’t speak German or Swedish) from my ancestors in 1900 or even 1800. I might not read every word they said, but I would be fascinated to hear the kinds of things they cared about. I want to know what they believed, what motivated them, and what they learned. If those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, why would I want to allow my ancestors to be in that pointlessly-repeating crowd? The fact that I’m recording this also inspires me to not live a forgettable life. We’re surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, many of whom we’ll never meet.
  • Communicating with the world. The “personal history” reason above could be served just as well with me typing into text files on my hard drive and saving them online somewhere. So why make it an easily-accessible blog with a comments system and a Google sitemap? I do this because I love conversing with you all. I’ve been criticized in the past for being “in the comments” too much. At the time of this writing, this blog has had 2,646 comments from readers, and judging by a quick-and-dirty MySQL query, about 22% of them are written by me. I’m not just here taking your comments in silently. I’m responding and conversing. You’ve all taught me a lot through our conversations, and now, you’re all a part of my digital heirloom too. Thank you.
  • I ♥ the Intertubes. It’s true. I absolutely love authoring on an instantaneous worldwide platform. I love it so much I left my previous line of work (project management with a little web authoring when time allowed) and decided to make websites full-time. I don’t write these entries in WordPress’s “Visual Editor” thingy. I open up an XHTML document in TextMate. I like it that way. I don’t know why. Don’t try to sell me on MarsEdit. It’s cool, but I don’t want it. I’m not trying to be efficient, I’m trying to enjoy myself, and XHTML is fun, even if it’s simple. Aside from loving the code, I love having a distribution platform on which I can write creatively, release whatever kind of art or thoughts I want, and know that my good friends will see it. It encourages me to create.

Thanks for taking this ride with me. Here’s to five more years.