Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Google Chrome: the alternative

This is my first post in this blog.
As the name suggests, it's gonna be about development and technology. I hope you enjoy it!

I wanted to begin with my commentary on Google Chrome, the long-awaited alternative to FireFox, Safari and Opera (sorry, I don't consider IE an alternative at all).

Google did the smartest thing for a new application: they designed the solution, but implemented it using existing open source components, thus avoiding NIH and giving back to the community.

Of course, the new browser is not perfect. I used it for several weeks before going back to FireFox, and I had two big reasons for that: Adblock and Atom/RSS support.

Adblock absence is easy to explain: Google makes money from ads, so it would be against there primary interests to support that kind of plugin.

But what about feeds?
I don't need an embedded reader, or "Live Bookmark" support. I use Google Reader for that.
All I need is feed discovery (i.e. show me the feed icon when a feed is available). Is that so hard?

I also miss other not-so-essential plugins, like BugMeNot or FireBug.

Still, Google Chrome gets many things right. I'd love to see a new browser in the near future (1 year?) that combines the best of FireFox and Chrome. The process is easy:
  1. Make it simple
  2. Make it even simpler. Remove everything that's not essential
  3. Allow me to extend it!
Now, what do I love about Chrome?
  • The Omnibox. After using it, having 2 separate boxes for addresses and search feels wrong.
  • Detachable tabs.
  • Zero clutter. No menu bar. No fixed status bar. No fixed bookmarks bar. This is very important with wide-screen.
  • Automatically adding search engines.
  • Startup speed. The cold start times for FireFox are unacceptable.
  • One process per tab. Now, a malfunctioning/slow page can't hang my whole browsing session.
  • A smart start page. One that I don't want to set to about:blank as soon as I install a browser.
  • Fast, fast, fast scripting engine.
  • Great in-page search (I belive this comes from WebKit)
  • Useful handling of invalid/self-signed certificates. Encryption and trust are two completely separate aspects. It's a shame they are basically tied to each other in the current HTTP implementation.
Some things need work:
  • Downloading a file to store in my computer is a different action than opening a file with another program (for example, a .DOC or .PDF). Chrome does not make this distintion, and makes me clean the download folder by hand, instead of using a temporary one.
  • Popup handling is innovative, but I prefer, to some degree, the FireFox way.
I feel we really needed someone to shake the browser world, and I'm glad it's Google, because it's probably the only player with enough mindshare to drive the change.