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Google Chrome - Google's new browser - First Look

Google Chrome, the browser from Google that pundits everywhere have been speculating about for years has finally arrived, at least in beta form. So what is it like? Pretty much exactly what you'd expect from Google: it's a browser, but simplified. Google chose to use the open-source WebKit browser as the basis for Chrome. Strangely, only a Windows version of Chrome is currently available, even though WebKit is the basis for the Safari browser on the Mac operating system.

During the install process, Google Chrome asks to import your bookmarks, browsing history, and passwords. This allows you to switch to using Chrome almost instantly. Interestingly, Chrome asks whether you would like Google to be your default search engine, or if you would like to specify a different one. Kudos to Google for this; when supplying their own browser, it would be tempting to say "using a Google browser, use Google's search".

Here's a quick walk-through of the Chrome user interface.

The interface for Google Chrome is sparse, with browser tabs at the top of the window rather than underneath the other browser elements such as the address bar:
Tabs on Top - Google Chrome
Tabs can be reordered by dragging them, something that most other tabbed browsers were not able to do when they were first released. The tabs look like traditional file folder tabs, rising vertically above the window. Some people refer to these as "sad tabs", likely due to their shape, though they are definitely a more accurate representation of the tab metaphor than some of the bastardizations that have recently become common in modern software.

The browser certainly feels snappy, opening Gmail about as quickly as it opens using the WebKit nightlies on a Mac. New tabs open instantly, and rather than being greeted by a blank window you are given a quick launch window showing your most frequently visited sites:
New Tab - Google Chrome

While the main user interface is sparse, the options panes are even less busy. There are only three tabs of options, and none of them change the user interface in any major way. People that like to tweak the heck out of their browser probably aren't going to be thrilled by the lack of exposed settings:
Google Chrome's options
Unfortunately, in my opinion, Google has chosen to follow Microsoft's user interface lead when it comes to the toolbar, or lack thereof. Rather than giving a traditional toolbar as almost all Windows applications do, Google is hiding the toolbar items in a couple of menus that are accessed by clicking icons at the top-right of the window, much as Internet Explorer began doing in version 7. Mac users won't be impacted by this poor user interface decision, since every Mac application uses the default menu bar at the top of the screen. I can understand the temptation to keep the window clean, but hiding useful menu options goes too far, in my opinion.
Google Chrome - Menu Bar missing
In the first icon shown above, the tooltip displays "Control the current page". In there you can find New Tab, New Windows, and interestingly a New Incognito Window option:
Google Chrome Incognito Window
The new window that opens when choosing a new incognito window has a slightly darker background, and a cute little spy-looking character at the top left of the window. Incognito windows open with a description of just what an incognito window is, which says:

You've gone incognito. Pages you view in this window won't appear in your browser history or search history, and they won't leave other traces, like cookies, on your computer after you close the incognito window. Any files you download or bookmarks you create will be preserved, however.

Going incognito doesn't affect the behavior of other people, servers, or software. Be wary of:
  • Websites that collect or share information about you
  • Internet service providers or employers that track the pages you visit
  • Malicious software that tracks your keystrokes in exchange for free smileys
  • Surveillance by secret agents
  • People standing behind you
Learn more about incognito browsing.

This mode, a feature which has also recently been announced for Internet Explorer 8, has colloquially been come to be known as "porn mode", though as Google states there are numerous valid reasons to use it that have nothing to do with browsing porn. For example, if you're using a shared machine, accessing your email using an incognito window would certainly be wise.

Other interface comments

The team at Download Squad has noted that Google Chrome doesn't appear to have an F11 full-screen option, nor does it do text zoom, but rather can only do full-page zooming. It appears to work much better with Google Docs than it does with competitor Zoho's office suite.


Strangely, capturing screenshots in Google Chrome is a bit of a hit-or-miss affair. For this post we've been using Chrome in both VMWare and Parallels virtual machines, and have used a few different screen capturing utilities, including Skitch, InstantShot, and the venerable Photoshop. In each instance, some weirdness was found where black text and UI elements would show up as white, and in cases where it was being displayed on a white background would completely disappear. We're not sure if this has to do with the virtual machines, or is a quirk of Chrome itself.

Tags: chrome, firefox, freeware, google, google-browser, google-chrome, opensource, safari