NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, October 2009
Google Chrome 3 – Ready for Prime Time!
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

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WEBSITES: http://www.google.com/chrome

Longtime readers of this column may remember that I wrote about Google’s Chrome browser when it first came out. I found that Chrome version 1 was unstable, and incapable of loading many of the websites that I routinely visited. About a year ago, with high hopes, I tested the then new release of Google Chrome version 2, and found many of the same bugs and incompatibilities that I found in version 1; my title of that column said that Chrome 2 was “Not Yet Ready for Prime Time.” I am now happy to report to you, my faithful readers, that the newly released Chrome version 3 is indeed “ready for prime time.”

Google Chrome is a free download from Google at http://www.google.com/chrome, and runs on XP and Vista, both 32 and 64 bit systems. The Google setup is a small 557kb executable file that downloaded quickly, and installed smoothly with no problems or conflicts on my Vista Home Premium 64 system. During the very quick install, Chrome identified that Firefox was my default browser, and asked if I would like to import my bookmarks (favorites) and other information from Firefox. A pull down menu was offered which would have also allowed import of items from Internet Explorer as well. Not surprisingly, Chrome had setup as a default home (startup) page Google.com, which I chose to change to my existing personal startup page (My Yahoo). Other than the trivial question about whether I wanted a desktop and quick-start icon for Chrome, the new browser installed in seconds.

Since I was skeptical about Chrome, based on my past problems with the earlier versions, I proceeded to immediately visit those websites that I was unable to load in versions 1 and 2. To my pleasant surprise, all of the sites that failed to load in the earlier versions of Chrome not just loaded flawlessly, but also opened very quickly.

My first impression of Chrome was that it loaded far faster than Internet Explorer or Firefox on my computer, and that it has a very clean look to the browser, in that is it not cluttered by a lot of infrequently used icons and toolbars, as well as other items that take up the precious real estate on the desktop. When I entered the URLs of my frequently visited websites, Chrome already had them filled ahead of my typing them, evidence that Chrome successfully imported them from Firefox. Since this was a clean install of Chrome, such that there could not be any online cache to load, I was amazed as to how quickly web pages loaded. While it was not a scientific experiment, and the evidence would only be anecdotal, I opened Internet Explorer 8 (IE8), Firefox 3.53, and Chrome 3 in adjacent windows. Without the need for a stopwatch, it was glaringly obvious that Chrome loaded the same web pages much faster than IE8 did, and somewhat faster than Firefox. Of these three browsers, all the latest builds running on a quad-core machine, Chrome was clearly the speed demon of the three. Chalk up a performance win for Chrome.

While I appreciated the clean appearance of Chrome when it opened, there are undoubtedly many who would like to change the appearance of Chrome to modify it to meet personal preferences. As I type this, Google has 29 themes available for Chrome at tools.google.com/chrome/intl/en/themes. The available themes range from “Minimal” that has an almost blank window with only minimal coloring, to several that are complex and brightly colored.

While Chrome is written in tight code, and loads very quickly, it is still very feature rich. It is amazingly intuitive and easy to use. One of my favorite features is clicking on a “+” in the tabs on the top of the page to open another browser window, and being greeted with interactive thumbnails of both open and recently closed websites; clicking on one would open that page in an instant. Chrome remembers the most frequently viewed pages, and displays thumbnails of those when a “New Tab” is selected. This makes it very easy to select a page, or the user can always type an address in the address bar or click on a bookmark. Another useful feature is the ability to search directly from the address bar. By simply typing a search term in the address space, the default search engine will be queried, and the results displayed. While Google was obviously the initial default search engine, it was a simple process to change the default to my personal favorite, AllTheWeb. To test the search function from the address bar, I typed my name in the space where I would normally type a web address (URL), hit enter, and the AllTheWeb page instantly opened with the web pages with my name. It was also actually fun to drag and drop tabs, watching the contents being moved around the browser page; this way open tabs can be organized to satisfy the whims of the user. Tabs can also be dragged and dropped on the Windows desktop, where they appear as a complete new window, and can be dragged back to the original browser where the tab will be integrated back with the other tabs. Each tab is independent, and a problem or crash in one tab will not likely crash the entire browser and other open tabs.

Many would wonder why Google would create and promote Chrome as another free browser in the now crowded field of browsers. The developers of Chrome identified needs and problems with the existing browsers, and addressed those issues on the web page “A fresh take on the browser” (http://www.google.com/chrome/intl/en/why.html). “Under the hood, we were able to build the foundation of a browser that runs today's complex web applications much better. By keeping each tab in an isolated "sandbox", we were able to prevent one tab from crashing another and provide improved protection from rogue sites. We improved speed and responsiveness across the board. We also built V8, a more powerful JavaScript engine, to power the next generation of web applications that aren't even possible in today's browsers.” By design, Chrome is intended to be more secure than its competitors, more stable with the “sandbox” concept, and faster. While I have not significantly tested the security capabilities of Chrome, and I am fully cognizant that security is a continuing effort, my initial impression is that Chrome is reasonably secure, although Google has recently released some security and features patches to harden the browser. As stated above, the Chrome developers were very successful in creating a very fast browser.

Chrome is an open source product, meaning that anyone can get the code and write applications for it. In writing Chrome, the developers acknowledged that they used open source code from other sources, including code and components from Firefox and Apple’s WebKit.

Google has done an excellent job with Chrome 3, and in its first few days of release has captured a small but rapidly growing share of the browser market. As more users download and install Chrome and find that it does indeed offer substantial performance and safety improvements over Internet Explorer. Other than not being compatible with some of my favorite Firefox add-ons, I found Chrome to be a most capable browser. Since Chrome is open source, I can foresee comparable add-ons being developed for Chrome just as they had been for Firefox.

I can now give Chrome my highest recommendation, and suggest that Windows users download Chrome and give it a try. It is perfectly OK to have multiple browsers installed on a computer, and select which one to run at any time. Since Chrome will import favorites, bookmarks, and other information from IE and Firefox, it would be fully ready to use after being installed. Download Chrome from Google (http://www.google.com/chrome) and try it. Since it is free, you really have nothing to lose, and will likely gain dramatically improved browsing performance, security, and satisfaction. After all, is that not why we surf the internet anyway?

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