Thoughts on Chrome

So, I decided to read the Chrome comic book, which was sent out to a select few influencers prior to the launch last week.

I wanted to see what all the fuss is about, and a couple things intrigued me. First, since Chrome is Windows only, it must be pretty good to stay relevant in an anti-Microsoft world like the blogosphere can frequently be.

I also wanted to see how well the comic book paradigm worked for instructional reading. We’ve talked in the past about using comics as a way to document and explain use cases and stories and even pitched them as a way to augment release documentation. Like a lot of ideas, we agreed it would be interesting, ran it up a few flagpoles and waited.

We’re still waiting.

Turns out the comic is a great way to keep me interested in the topic. I doubt words with a few screenshots would have worked. After all, I only read one of the hundreds of posts I saw in my reader about Chrome.

Well, the comic interested me enough to fire up VirtualBox and my XP VM to install Chrome and give it a whirl.

Which feature got me? Multiple processes for each tab.

I love Firefox. Since version 0.8, it’s been my primary browser. One thing I’ve always loved is tabbed browsing. I first used tabs in Netscape 6, and Firefox’s implemention plus the extensions make it the best browser for me. Not everyone cares for tabs, e.g. my wife, but I like them.

Firefox 2 is notorious for leaking memory. Memory consumption has improved between version 2 and 3, but still, an average instance of Firefox on my Mac or Ubuntu box can quickly spike to 300 MB, which isn’t trivial. Since Firefox runs as a single process, more tabs require more memory, which tends to get fragmented, forcing periodic shutdowns to free the memory.

Back to the comic, page 4 (below) is an example of why the comic works. As I read through the “Stability, Testing and the Multi-Process Architecture” I got the itch to take Chrome for a test drive.

Aside from the annoyance of having to run Chrome on a VM, it’s pretty awesome. I like the UI, it’s perceptively fast, and the design does show that Google started from scratch to meet the needs of modern Intertubes use, e.g. you can drag tabs between Chome windows, which is freaky cool. You can also create desktop-style apps for any web apps, a la Mozilla Prism, of which I’m also a fan.

Chrome grabbed 1% of the browser market in the first 24 hours after its release. I’ve never been a fan of these metrics, since it’s not clear to me how multiple installs are treated. For example, I have IE6, IE7, Firefox 2, Firefox 3 (two installs), Opera (two installs), Safari and Chrome all installed on the three O/S I run on this box, including VMs. How can they tell that I’m a Firefox user?

Still, looking at the metrics for this blog for an example, Chrome makes up 5.57% of the visits since its release, higher than Safari. Not bad at all, and none of these visits are mine, in case you were wondering.

Now for the cold water.

It’s unclear to me how Google plans to approach the browser market, and it seems inevitable that Chrome will take share away from Google’s buddies at Firefox. Both browsers target the same market, i.e. the digerati, the technically savvy. Like it or not, this represents a niche market.

Unless they have a master plan, like pushing it to all the IE users with Google Desktop and Toolbar installed, I wonder how they will take share from IE without cannibalizing Firefox, in which Google is heavily invested. Most computer users don’t like change, which is why IE6 manages to have 25% of the market past its eighth birthday.

The lack of a Mac version of Chrome seems like a glaring omission. Sure, a Mac version takes share from Apple, not Microsoft, but Macs are strong in the demographic where Chrome is succeeding.

For web developers, Chrome is yet another browser on which to test and develop. So, they can’t be happy. Not that Chrome is challenging like IE6, but I’m sure even the small differences between rendering engines will cause multiple problems for developers.

Not than any of this matters, since Google is Google. One thing does seem certain. The competition between Microsoft and Google gets more interesting each day.

Incidentally, while I was installing Chrome, I decided to install IE8 Beta 2 for giggles. At first blush, it seems identical to IE7 except that it highlights the top-level domain in the address bar (which Chrome also does) and it returned the menu bar to beneath the address bar. That’s always annoyed me in IE7, so I hacked up the registry to switch the menu bar back to its proper place at the top. Otherwise, IE8 was a blah for me. Did I miss something?

Have you tried Chrome? What do you think of it? Can it succeed as a viable alternative browser? Find the comments.




  1. Honestly, the only way I see Chrome getting significant market share off IE is if they get Microsoft (or for consumers Dell/Asus/…) to include it so it comes pre-installed on Windows.

  2. Don't get me started on market share voodoo calculations, browser, O/S, it's all reading tea leaves anyway.

    But yes, we're on the same page. Chrome seems like an easy bet to cannibalize Firefox and take share from Safari and Opera. With no Linux or Mac (yet) versions, even that seems like a tall order. Maybe there's more to the master plan.

    BTW, I heard Chrome has the speed dial feature that Opera has, but I can't find it. Anyone?

  3. Runs like lightening even inside parallels. I could see google managing to penetrate a bit further than the ol' fox into ms land if they market it right. And as others have pointed out, if Safari/Firefox/IE/Opera and various others use some of the open-source goodies in Chrome to make themselves faster/stabler/mo-bettah then everyone wins including the big G.

  4. It definitely is fast, making we wish to use it natively even more.

    The one thing that Firefox has that makes it my preferred browser is the add-ons. Gecko may be heavier than WebKit, but in the case of add-ons, it's worth it. I do love the wicked cool stuff in Chrome though like dragging tabs between windows.

    I think you're right that innovation in the browser can only help by pushing the others to uptake the good stuff. Win for all of us.

  5. It's clean, simple, and plain dumb fast. It doesn't run everything, so can't be your 'plan a' browser, but it's pretty good. You know, everybody is saying, “Wah wah wah how 'bout a version for the Mac.” I agree. But…”Wah wah wah….how 'bout a version for Windows Mobile?” And other Mobile OS's?

  6. Google did announce that Android would feature Chrome in the near future, so there you go. Can I add a whine about no Linux version? I guess if Google wants to hit MSFT where it hurts, it has to be on Windows (duh), but I still think they'll take more from Firefox than IE.

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