First Impressions of Google Chrome’s OS X Beta

Does the world need another browser? Isn’t Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Opera enough? Does Google have what it takes to make a functional browser that’s enough to compete with the likes of Firefox, Safari and IE? Or is there a more ulterior motive: What better way to track web experience than with a Google browser (and now Google DNS service) reporting back to the mothership..

Being the curious type, after hearing of the OS X version going into Beta, I decided to have a look at Google Chrome for OS X. Here’s some of my first impressions and experiences with it:

Chrome is built upon the Webkit layout engine and application framework. The three main features of Chrome that separate it from the others is that Chrome is built for speed, stability and security.

Speed is handled by Chrome’s V8 Javascript engine. Without getting too far into details, Chrome’s V8 Javascript advantage is that it compiles the Javascript on a web page into native machine code before executing it, instead of interpreting it. Additionally, inline caching also boosts Javascript performance. Speed is important to Google. Since their web apps run on AJAX (Asynchronous Javascript and XML), a major Javascript speed boost from Chrome will make Google Apps perform just as well as the locally installed office application of your choice.

Stability and security are achieved through sandboxing each window and tab. Since they reside in their own memory space, and are locked away from the other memory spaces, Chrome is very secure. It was the only browser to withstand the CanSecWest onslaught. Exploiting one page, window or tab leaves the rest of the browser unaffected. With Google pushing it’s cloud computing services, stability is important. By keeping each window / tab in it’s own area, if one tab decides to crash, the others remain unaffected – you won’t lose work because of an errant website.

First Impressions:

Now, I do realize this is a beta and the entire extensions portion is still part of the unstable Developer build. However, I here are my first impressions:

The Good: Chrome is fast. Seriously fast. Compared to Safari and especially Firefox, the pages are much snappier. The UI is clean, uncluttered and very nice. Screen real-estate matters to me, and I appreciate the lack of thick toolbars. If I was running OS X on a hackintosh, I’d be using Chrome for it’s low screen footprint. Features are similar to Firefox, with a Location Bar, Incognito Mode, and the newly released Extensions framework. Incognito mode is nice, but they do warn that just because your browser isn’t recording anything, sites may still be. Chrome has some built in developer tools that are worth mentioning. The included Javascript Console and Developer Window works similarly to Firefox’s Firebug extension.

The Extensions are useful, and there are a good amount of them already. Here’s some of the more popular extensions. Installing them is straight forward, just select “Get More Extensions” from the Tools -> Extensions menu. Just remember, to use them on Chrome for Mac, you’ll need to be running the Developer build, not the Beta.

The Bad: As fast as Chrome is, like Firefox and Safari, playing a YouTube video will push the processor into the “kick on the fan” zone. To be fair, this is more likely Flash Player than Chrome, Safari or Firefox, but its still a drag on the system. Java isn’t supported (yet) so I couldn’t test out Java performance.

If you like to have a lot of tabs open, Chrome takes a larger memory footprint than the other browsers and this is due to it’s security framework – each tab or window is in it’s own memory space. This is a good feature, however it can tax your resources if you get a little crazy with your tabs.

Caching may explain some of the speediness of Chrome and a cache setting was no where to be found. I don’t mind this so much but it would be nice to adjust the cache for two reasons: To see how much of an effect it has on performance, and to make sure I’m not storing a ton of data in it.

The major bad point to an otherwise good browser is the reason why it was probably developed – Data collection. Google Fan-dom aside, they are a company with a business purpose – to collect data, mine that data and use the data to make money. If Google wanted to really peer into how someone used the web, what better way to do so that with a Google branded browser that sends back the data they’d like to measure…

Chrome’s Data Collection:

Surprise, surprise.. Chrome sends back all sorts of data to Google command. Some is optional and may be easily turned off, while some is not optional and may not be turned off. The following data is collected by Chrome:

RLZ Identifier: An encoded string, which contains non-identfying code. This identifier can not be opted out of and reports back to Google once every 24 hours, on each Google search, and according to Wikipedia, “When significant events occur”.

Client ID: A unique identifier that’s used for statistics purposes and saved to your hard drive. Its not known when the client ID is sent to Google and what it’s statistics are. You may opt out of sending the client ID.

Suggest: Information sent is the text typed into the address bar. It’s sent whenever you type text into it. You may opt out of this one too.

Page Not Found: When you receive a “Server not found” response, you’ll be sending the text in the address bar to Google. This is also opt-out.

Bug Tracker: Chrome will send Google data about any crashes and failures. This isn’t any different from Microsoft, Mozilla or Apple. You may opt out of this as well.

Getting Chrome:

As of right now, OS X’s version of Chrome is in beta status which means its not fully stable or finished but it’s usable. The Extensions portion is only available by installing the less stable Developer version. If you’d like to try it out, here are the links:

Google Chrome OS X: Beta version (No Extensions)

Google Chrome OS X: Developer version (with Extensions)

And if you’d like to experience the Chrome UI without really using Chrome, just install the Firefox Chromifox Extreme Theme.

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