(I really wanted to title this "There’s no place like Chrome," but McCracken beat me to it, damn him.)
Google finally enters the browser business (finally fulfilling years of rumors), and you’d think there was nothing else going on in the world — no political conventions starring pistol-packing ex-beauty queens with pregnant teenage daughters, no hurricanes turning the weather over the southeast into the world’s biggest daiquiri machine. Nope, nothing but all browsers all the time.
Everyone and their dog is doing back flips trying to review the browser before anyone else. So there’s a lot of Chrome out there on the Web today, some of it more polished than others.
But first, a question. Before it made the Chrome beta available, Google felt compelled to publish a comic book describing its many technical wonderments. So: Why is it everyone feels the need to generate comic books to explain things to us? (Or, for that matter, why Hollywood would be dead without Marvel or DC Comics?) Have Americans grown into such dim bulbs that we need pictures to understand anything?
Having watched two weeks of political conventions on TV, I’m thinking the answer might be yes.
Now, the browser. I spent the first 10 minutes using Chrome feeling rather dim myself because I could not locate the friggin’ "home" icon. Then I discovered why: Google hid it. You have to go to Chrome’s Options menu to turn it on. So it seems the wattage coming out of Google isn’t as high as it used to be either.
Otherwise, though, Chrome is amazingly nimble and stable, page loads are lightning fast, and it runs rings around Firefox and IE in terms of system resources. I opened 25 tabs at a time, trying to see when it would hit the wall. It didn’t. And total memory usage was still under 100MB, though it’s hard to tell exactly since Chrome seems to open separate executables for each tab. That also means if one page crashes, it doesn’t take your whole browser with it (at least, theoretically).
I’ve never managed to open more than 10 tabs or windows inside IE without it bringing my system to its knees. I can do more than 20 in Firefox, but then it starts to waddle like Rosie O’Donnell carrying a 30-pound Butterball between her thighs. So Chrome lives up to the hype in that regard.
Now for the downside. As Infoworld’s Paul Venezia notes, it still lacks plug ins for Java and Shockwave. Technologizer’s Harry McCracken also notes that Chrome is innovative and impressive, but woefully incomplete: It doesn’t support RSS or even the Google Toolbar (hmm, shades of Microsoft there). The always list-happy PC World offers up seven reasons to love Chrome and seven reasons to hate it — with the biggie being #5 on the hate list: by using Chrome, you’re handing yet another slice of your privacy over to Google. And once they finally turn evil — fahgeddaboutit.
Of course, Chrome is an early beta that will add plug ins and features over time. I’m sure the warts will also grow more obvious.
Some analysts are saying Chrome is the dagger that will strike Microsoft in the heart. (Though I’m pretty sure you need to kill vampires with a wooden stake.) I think they got the plot right but the characters wrong. If any one is going to get thrown under Google’s Chrome wheels, it will be Firefox. Internet Explorer is still protected by Newton’s Third Law of User Inertia: As long as it still works, most people will be unmotivated to change. It’s why AOL is still around after all these years.
Those who seek alternatives like Firefox will naturally be attracted to the open source Chrome, which bears more than a fair resemblance to it. And Mozilla gets nearly all of its revenues from a search deal with Google. I can’t imagine the G-men continuing to do that once Chrome comes out of beta (my prediction: 2012). After that, well, buh-bye Firefox, it’s been nice knowin’ ya.
Now: When they start selling 2-pound notebooks with just Chrome on them as an OS and everything in the cloud, that’s when Microsoft needs to worry. I’d certainly line up to buy one. Wouldn’t you?
Is Chrome a Windows killer? Or are we all suffering from browser fatigue? Post your thoughts below or email them to me: himself (at) dantynan (dot) com.
(This post originally appeared on Infoworld’s Notes From the Field blog.)