Monday, September 08, 2008

The Colours of Chrome

Apart from the logo and the name, everything else related to Chrome is almost monochrome, typical Google minimalistic design. Even GMail and GTalk have colorful logos and the rest black and white and a cool shade of blue for the bare minimum borders and bars. The immense power, speed, and security that Google promises behind this plain look should make it the best of all browsers.

Also because it is a product by Google.

However, I could not refrain myself from finding faults since the day Chrome was launched. Without going into the gory details, let me list down the features I missed badly:

1. The Chrome omnibar Google is so proud of, is less powerful than the Firefox 3 'Awesome bar'. [The omnibar learns as you use the browser; it can transform itself into the search bar of various sites you search on frequently, the following limitations still exist.]
      a. In Firefox 3 address bar, type in a term and the autocomplete function shows in a dropdown all possible matching sites from your browsing history, bookmarks and tags. On the other hand, the Chrome omnibar only automatically suggests related queries and popular websites, or if your input string occurs in the url of a page you had already visited.
      b. It also does not go to the most likely page, the I-am-feeling-lucky feature I am so used to in Firefox 3. (For example, you could type in "firefox features" in the address bar and it would take you to the features page on the official Mozilla website).

2. Does not let you perform a text-search inside text areas occuring on a page. Also, the absence of a toolbar doesn't let you search on pages where Ctrl+F is mapped to something else, like in the new Yahoo! mail.

3. Lets you move only one by one between your last viewed pages using the back and forward buttons, unlike FF3 where the back/forward buttons give you a dropdown to directly jump to any of your previously viewed pages. [Lets you move between last viewed pages by right-clicking or click-and-holding on the back/forward buttons. Not intuitive though.]

4. There is no 'Open' option for attachments, it saves them directly to the designated downloads folder, rather than the temporary windows folder. Also, there is no progress bar for a downloading file.

5. The status bar is temporary and not wide enough. You might not be able to view the complete url when you hover over a link.

6. Zoom in and out works only for the text as opposed to the entire page as in Firefox.

7. The powerful Javascript support does not work for some features for some applications. The place it irks the most was Google's very own GMail, where the alerts do not have the default button selected, so they cannot be operated using the spacebar.

8. Chrome doesn't ask you to save tabs when you exit, and therefore they are lost if you accidentally close the browser.

I believe the above list would still expand. Yes, you could write your own or hunt for addons that provide some of the above missing features and make up for some of them.

Google Chrome, however, is not an utter waste. There are quite a few very useful and interesting features:

0. The omnibar learns as you use the browser; it can transform itself into the search bar of various sites you search on frequently. Or you could configure your omnibar to search on specific sites.

1. It is no doubt faster, even though I felt multiple processes instead of threads for various tabs would reduce performance. Multiple processes, however, seem to be effective in a lot of other problem areas, like security and browser crashes. More details in the Google comic book: Google Chrome: Behind the Open Source Browser Project.

2. Chrome persists data you write in a text area. So if you were typing something in a text area and the browser crashes, you do not lose it. Also, you can expand any text area on any page to any dimension you want to.

3. The smart 'new' tab lists your most frequently used, recently closed, and bookmarked pages. The simplistic look without any toolbars makes sure all tools appear as if they are a part of the webpage.

4. The history is much more exhaustive than in any other browser I've seen. It gives you a minute-by-minute history of every day in a full page rather than in the constricted sidebar. Also, you have the power of Google search within your history: search for any word in the text of the pages you previously visited and you get the pages instantaneously.

5. The task manager that manages different tabs comes handy in the case of a single page crashing/hanging, and also for identifying the high resource-intensive tabs.

6. The minimalistic UI gives you much more space on the page as opposed to other browsers that eat up lot of vertical pixels through their toolbars and stuff.

7. Incognito mode (no trace of visited pages on your machine), application shortcuts (direct shortcuts to desktop like applications without any tabs/address bar), better javascript support by means of a new Javascript Virtual Machine, the Inspect Element, are a few other features of Chrome.

Chrome is being talked about as Google's competition to Microsoft, though I believe it is difficult to wean Internet Explorer loyalists as they are the non-so-tech-savvy ones content with the OS in-built browser. Chrome is built on Apple's WebKit framework, the same used by their Safari, but Apple fans are generally very loyal. Mozilla Firefox is one browser that might feel the heat, if not now, in due course of time.

Out and out, I have mixed feelings for Google's new browser. While the look-and-feel and speed are things I like, it is difficult to un-learn stuff from Firefox. Let me see if I can write some good enough addons for Chrome.

12 comments:

sanjay said...

I agree with most of the points that you have mentioned. Chrome is not for ordinary people, it is a browser for tech-savy people.
For the problem 2, you can use this method: in the Omnibox, type - goto :space: :name of the page:
I am surprised that you didn't talk about the new search feature that automatically keeps tracks of site that you visit and directly let you perform search from the Omnibox. For eg. product search on amazon.com. BTW, just right click in the Omnibox and click on Edit search engines to further explorer this feature.
I will commend Google for taking bold steps to re-design Web browsers (remember even Firefox didn't attempt this, it kept browser design more and less similar to IE). Although many Chrome features are borrowed from Firefox, Safari, Opera, IE (new tab button), they have showed new ways to integrate them together.
And as it is still in Beta, we can excuse them for some shortcomings, don't we ;-)
I hope Google will allow to build Firefox type community around Chrome.

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sanjay said...

For problem 3: right click on Back/Forward button

ashes said...

Sanjay:

Yeah I had missed out on the search feature from omnibox. Thanks for pointing it out. Actually I had read about it but could not re-create it while writing the post.

I still could not get the goto: :name feature yet.

Google is now in such a position that they can re-design whatever they want to. I will not be surprised if they redesign OS even after borrowing features from Windows, Linux and Mac OS.

But don't talk about a Google product being in Beta, both GMail and GTalk are still in beta for 4 years now.

I guess a Chrome community is already on the way.

Thanks for the solution to problem 2.

sanjay said...

To explorer search related feature, right click in the Omnibox and then click on Edit Search Engines. In the Search Engines window, you will see Other Search Engines towards the bottom. There a keyword goto is assigned to Google's I'm feeling Lucky Search (equivalent of Firefox's awesome bar search). To perform any search simply type - goto "name of the site". You can assign a keyword of your choice to any search engine in this way.

Some useful link for Chrome:
http://www.chromeplugins.org/
http://chromespot.com/
http://googlesystem.blogspot.com/2008/09/google-chrome-tips.html
http://googlesystem.blogspot.com/2008/09/use-multiple-google-accounts.html

Keep Chroming!

Anadi Misra said...

Very informative...and as I said earlier...I feel so out of touch with technology when I listen to you guys...:) (getting Americanized i am afraid)

Well downloaded chrome...Personally, I don't like to have more technology than I need....kinda saturated that ways....I guess once several people tell me its good...only then I go for it.

ashes said...

Sanjay:

You are one guy I know who always knows the in and out of upcoming technology.

ashes said...

Anadi:

One reason why you feel out of technology when compared to me is that I work in these technologies. And Americans are much more technology-savvy then Indians. Why, even this Chrome we are so happy about is built in the US.

Good that you downloaded Chrome. You will also find some features really useful.

Anonymous said...

Ashutosh -

Very informative...I think you got lots of info on Chrome as you are using it as your default browser….but my experience on it is bit different...I started using Chrome, I felt its heavy, this browser is not for those who are using low bandwidth internet such as wireless connection...the browser usually hangs...and makes me so irritated...i choose not use Chrome..I then switch back to my old browser itself....

ashes said...

Anonymous:

Well, on the contrary, Chrome is much lighter and faster than other browsers. And it is designed not to hang at all! Only the tab that has a problem crashes.

Amiya Shrivastava said...

Point 4 in weakness areas, in my opinion, is settings specific, I don't know whether they have added this option lately or it was there at the time you wrote this blog.

I could not understand what are you talking about in point 7 in the same section as above.

Yeah it cannot run many applications on facebook, one of the many reasons might be that rest of the browsers are pretty much stabilized but this is new and will take its own time to reach stability.

Different processes in Chrome is quite close to having separate windows open for each webpage.

ashes said...

Amiya:

Yeah, I also don't see point 4 now. I don't remember whether it was not there or I did not notice it, when I wrote the post.

Point 7 is in favor of Chrome..what did you not understand?

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