Google's Chrome: Give Me More


When Apple released Safari for Windows last year -- remember really hard for a spell, and you'll recall that it actually did happen -- I blogged that all Web browsers are essentially the same, with the important exception of security, which has improved across the board, and discretionary features that excite some users and bore others.


With Google's new Chrome, released in beta yesterday, I have to take it all back.


Of course, this is the part of the post where I am obliged to say: Don't let your business users install this until at least a few patches/updates roll out. ALL initial-release software is untrustworthy, and already there are reports of a carpet-bombing vulnerability in Chrome. So, it's not ready yet. But you already knew that.


Now, to the good stuff.


About 10 times a day, I ask myself, "Where did I read that interesting piece on application virtualization?" So I am frustratingly in love (more on this later) with Chrome's ability to search a complete index of pages I've visited, not just the meta page headers and URLs. Literally, this feature would have saved me 15 minutes and a bunch of under-the-breath cursing just yesterday.


It's the best thing since bookmarks, even with the understandable privacy concerns that surface any time a piece of software collects a lot of data about user behavior, and Chrome is all about user behavior. Oddly enough, I have no need of a "porn mode" at work, so having complete access to my browsing history is divine.


Now, the frustrating part. Chrome is so stripped down that I can't use it right now for my day-long professional Web browsing. Most notably, it doesn't support the Google Toolbar and its Page Rank meter, which you tend to use a lot in the Web publishing business. Sure, the browser is in beta, but not having the Google Toolbar available -- or as an option for a custom install, which I would imagine is coming -- just seems weird. After all, Google Calendar is still in "beta," and it's pretty darn functional. Even if you're Google, rolling to market with a complete product is advisable.


The absence of the Google Toolbar has drawn the most ire from the blogosphere. Second on the list probably would be the dearth of RSS support (like I said, stripped down). I find the latter omission more interesting than irritating, since I made the move to Google's Web-based Reader service ages ago. I'm left wondering how hard a company that is staking its future on cloud-delivered software is going to push to convert existing services to traditional client-side installs. And Google would really, really like for you to have an iGoogle page.


My personal big complaint is that there is no History toolbar, complete with my precious search of visited pages. The feature is available only through the History menu and the New tab, which also has really fat thumbnails of your most commonly visited pages, as you can see below:

Image 1

These thumbnails fall into the boring category for me -- that's what bookmarks are for, although Chrome clearly embraces what I find to be Google's somewhat creepy ambition to suggest things to you, based on previous behavior. When I get even more forgetful, that might be useful, but right now explicit search works great, thanks.


I can't imagine that a History toolbar, or a sidebar pane, a la Firefox, won't be on the menu soon. It's Chrome's differentiator, so put it front and center -- I beg you.


Some other quick notes about the Chrome beta:


I need the Page Rank meter, but other Google Toolbar junkies might be placated by the fact that the "omnibox" in Chrome tries to double as the default Google search element. Type in a term and you are invited to search for it on Google -- or any leading engine of your choice; it's configurable. But again, you get those creepy predicative behaviors, like so:

Image 2

Has Britney really sunk so low in our hearts and minds?


Google makes me kinda nervous, so I poked around to see exactly what kind of data Chrome is sending back to the mothership, and I found this useful post from Google watcher extrordinaire Matt Cutts about his Q&A with the Chrome team.


Cutts is not worried, so neither am I -- too much. The one point of contention with Cutts' post I found is that the setting to send "anonymous" -- insomuch as anything is actually anonymous on the Web -- usage data about features and crashes was active in my default install. It's simple enough to turn off, which, of course, I did, as I would imagine most corporate users would want to.


The main toolbar button for your Home page actually is turned off by default, and has to be turned on under Options. Weird.


Of course, there's always some wackiness that emerges when you experiment with any new software. In writing this blog post, I found that Chrome has trouble identifying line breaks in the visual editor mode in WordPress 2.2.2. These things tend to shake out, but expect a few irritable support calls from your most eager Google adopters.


You want porn mode, you got porn mode, complete with a nifty logo on Incognito pages.

Image 3

These pages are launched from a menu in a completely new window, which seems like an OK option, but a simple On/Off switch makes more sense to me. Chrome's FAQ on Incognito mode notes that it does basically nothing to actually hide info from people with even rudimentary means to find out what you've been looking at, including "people standing behind you." Google left "system admins" and "employers" off the list, but hopefully most users get this by now.


You can always hope.