September 09, 2008, 3:43 PM — Google is smart and oh-so-sly. The company released its Chrome Web browser and everyone's writing about it.
One article I saw recently says Chrome grabbed a bunch of users in short order (see "Chrome Grabs 1 Percent of Market in Under 24 Hours"). I don't know whether to doubt that--or just wonder. According to PC World.com's tracking service, 36 percent of all visitors to the site use Firefox, 31 percent use Internet Explorer 7, 17 percent use IE 6, and the rest are on Safari, Opera, AOL, and Mozilla. Chrome wasn't on the list when I checked the other day.
I did an informal poll on a private list I moderate and with 100 people responding, 60 percent of the responders tried Chrome, but went back to their original browser.
Google's Wonder Browser?
Sure, I know that you've read reviews of Chrome, and many of you have tried it. Here are my observations.
The fact that each tab is really a window running a separate process is innovative and smart. Each tab is independent, so if one tab is slow loading, or has a scripting problem and jams, there's no adverse impact on the others.
Speed--fast-loading pages--is Chrome's best achievement (aside from scaring the pants off of Microsoft, of course). The browser's underlying architecture, and the tab independence, lets most Web sites fly open faster than I've seen since I moved to broadband from dial-up.
A Few Show Stoppers
Chrome is still in development, so it's missing those cool things built into your favorite browser, the tools you're used to having at your disposal.
I'm a huge fan of Maxthon, a free browser that uses IE's engine, and Chrome doesn't even come close. For instance, Chrome won't let me assign a sticky to a tab, send a tab to the desktop, or create groups of Web sites. Even a simple task like dragging and dropping a link onto a browser window to open a new tab isn't available.
Some of my Firefox buddies have also tried and released Chrome because it's missing features they rely on. For example, Steve W. complained that he can't use tons of Firefox Plugins such as Shutterfly Uploader, Photosynth, or Garmin Communicator. He'd also miss Web of Trust (WOT) and IE Tab.
RoboForm stores passwords and logs me into sites; read more about it in "25 Products We Can't Live Without." And Chrome won't let Ad Muncher do its extraordinary job of ad blocking (sure, Chrome blocks pop-ups, but it doesn't touch banner, Flash, or other irritating ads). Read more about Ad Muncher in "15 Downloads That Will Block Annoying Ads and Pop-Ups."
A couple more complaints: I can't add links to external tools onto Chrome's toolbar. And it couldn't import more than about 10 percent of my IE favorites. A buddy had a similar complaint about his Firefox bookmarks.
Google's New OS
Google may be pitching Chrome as a super-duper browser, but I think it's really showing off its shiny new operating system. Remember, each of Chrome's tabs is a separate window--and while you might see each window displaying a Web page, Google's thinking about applications.
This is a direct attack on Microsoft. The idea is, a small kernel on your local system could boot you into directly into Chrome, or a server-based operating system, and you could start working sans Windows.
I know what you're thinking: Everything online? That's crazy. That's what I thought, too--until I remembered when Microsoft showed off a prerelease version of Windows 95 at a users group I used to manage. The presenter had an intriguing idea: Instead of doing research using Microsoft's CD-based encyclopedia, Encarta, just reach out to Encarta on the Internet for fresh, dynamic data. The audience laughed because few people had broadband back then.
So cloud computing may be pie-in-the-sky right now--but five years down the road, you might not be laughing.
This Week's Roundup of Time Wasters
Guess my accent had me running in circles. Listen to an assortment of people reading a few lines of poetry, then guess where they're from.
I don't know who the folks at OrangeLabel are looking for in the way of clients, but they've got some thinking to do. Look at the bottom of the open book where it says "orange," scan to the right, and check the Taskbar program tabs.
The Shepard Scale is a weird auditory illusion. No, I mean really weird. Play the YouTube video. Play it again. The scale is ascending, right? To me, each time I played it, it sure sounded as if the scale started at a higher tone. Read more about the Shepard tone on WikiPedia.
Fireballs--it's loud, fast, and enough of a challenge to keep you busy for half an hour. [Thanks, Vince.]
Steve Bass writes PC World's monthly "Hassle-Free PC" column and is the author of "PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer," available from Amazon.com. He also writes PC World's daily Tips & Tweaks blog. Sign up to have Steve's newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail.