Saturday, January 9, 2010

Google Chrome First Impressions

I just tried out Google Chrome this morning, since Google keeps poking me about it in these little reminders from time-to-time. The following are my first (and right now only) impressions of it...

  1. As promised, it is fast. However..
  2. My initial experience is that it suffers from the "Max Power" syndrome:

    Homer: There's the right way, the wrong way, and the Max Power way!
    Bart: Isn't that the same as the wrong way?
    Homer: Yes, but it's faster!

    (you gotta love The Simpsons when it comes to philosophy)
  3. First big problem: Issues with font anti-aliasing. For those non-techies out there, this is a method that graphics-based systems use to smooth out fonts on the screen, so they have a softer, and less choppy appearance. Some people like it. Some people don't. I'm one in the "don't" category. It makes the fonts look like they're being rendered on an old CRT monitor with poor resolution. It hurts my eyes. Typing about it hurts my brain. The only saving grace (being generous) is that searching on Google for the answer told me that this was an issue for a number of people, and not even close to being fixed.
  4. Second HUGE problem: URLbar (or, as called in Chrome, the Omnibar) autocompletion and drop-down autocompletion. Being able to turn this off was a hidden feature of the Seamonkey (old Mozilla) browser, and I loved it. When I have a bunch of friends (or my parents) over, I don't want to type the letters "na" in the URLbar and have:

    www.nakedladies.com "Get a look at all those naked ladies"
    (calm down folks, this is just an example...)

    either pop-down in a selection menu OR appear as a suggestion in the URLbar (or Omnibar) automatically. NEVER, EVER! Now, I do want my browsing history stored, because what I like to be able to do is to call that up by pressing the little down arrow on the right-hand side of the bar. This is letting ME indicate when I want to recall my history.

    I had this same issue with Firefox until I wrote a little plug-in called no_urlbar_autocomplete and have been kind of living happily ever after. (I'll explain the "kind of" comment at a later date)
  5. I'm not a big fan of tabbed browsers. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I never use tabs. I do, sometimes. But in general I will open a new browser window for new web sites. It's just the way I operate. Anything I don't use that sits on the screen wastes precious display space, and when keeping it around is avoidable, it becomes annoying. Don't tell me to get a newer laptop with a larger screen (or one with higher resolution where the fonts are so small even I can't read them).
In a strictly technical way, I am very impressed with Chrome. I read through the comic book description of how they got where they are today, and the Google development staff truly addressed many of the problems that make browsers into unsafe, unstable, resource hogs. I also feel that if any organization is going to be able to figure out how to render web pages correctly overall, it would definitely be Google.

That being said, though, philosophically I like software that I can customize to fit my own user experience. For me, the web browser is another application and I want its look-and-feel to coincide with how I like to do things. I like it to be customizable (but not by rewriting the code or developing software plugins). What Google Chrome does, in my opinion, is take some of the worst user interface (UI) features from Firefox, and then go the next step and make it even less customizable. I just felt like Google was telling me how my web experience should be, instead of letting me decide that for myself. Similarly, while I agree with them that Javascript and other embedded language ideas are becoming the norm, sometimes they are used without discretion and I like the ability to just shut it off. If that function was around, I couldn't find it.

I suspect that Chrome's UI issues will ultimately be resolved once people who are a lot more vocal with a lot more programming experience than I do go ahead and start resolving these problems. It is immediately apparent that others feel as I do about this.

What I didn't test, and should have, is whether or not I could actually browse Flash-based websites without needing a hunk of proprietary, buggy, security-vulnerability-laden, software from Adobe (that doesn't work on all operating systems and in all environments). That was one of my hopes for Chrome. I was also hoping that they would integrate a simple, uniform media player so that (unless I chose to define it to something else) I would have good audio/video functionality in the browser no matter what OS I chose to use. It may be there, but I just didn't take any additional time to test it. For me, the issues I outlined above were deal breakers. While I am not in love with Firefox, and it does have performance and (sometimes) stability issues, the overall experience is mine. Yeah, people will make fun of my "old school" desktop and browser configuration, but I don't care. I like it, and it (usually) works for me.

I will probably re-visit Chrome at some later date, but for now, I'm sticking with what I have (Firefox and Seamonkey).

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