Browser Wars: Enter Googles Chrome

- September 10, 2008

Google Chrome Logo

Last Tuesday, September 2nd, Google released its open source browser Chrome to an expectant public.   Word of the pending release was inadvertently leaked by the search engine (who also celebrates its tenth birthday this month), raising the level of expectation even higher.

But now that the browser is available for use, what does it offer when compared to other software application such as Microsoft ®’s Internet Explorerâ„¢, Apple ®’s Safari ®, Mozilla ® Foundation’s Firefox ®, and Opera Software’s eponymous Operaâ„¢ browser?

Before we detail some of the features of Chrome, we should first mention the slight issue with Chrome’s initial end-user licensing agreement (EULA).   Google removed the portion of its EULA for Google Chrome that caused users concern.   The term stated that Google would retain, “[…]a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive licence [sic] to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.”   This language was almost immediately replaced with:

“[…]You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.”

Unfortunately, the EULA matter wasn’t the only hiccup of note for Chrome.   On Wednesday the U.S. Computer Emergency Response Team (US-CERT) issued a warning to Chrome users about a potential security risk in the new browser’s default settings.

US-CERT notes that the browser’s default settings accept all downloads without prompting users.   This allows for the possibility of an attacker placing malicious applications on a user’s system without any previous warning.   In addition, downloaded files can be opened with a single click, which could allow a user to inadvertently open a malicious file.   US-CERT advises users to turn on the “Ask where to save each file before downloading” option within the “Minor Tweaks” tab in the browser preferences in order to mitigate the security risk.

So, now that users are more comfortable with downloading and installing Chrome, and now that they know how to better safeguard themselves from potential risks, how is Chrome a better browser?

To start with, Google’s Chrome is fast, feature-rich and stable.   Then there are Google’s in-house innovations like JavaScript handling, the multi-threaded engine, and the task manager.   And then we come to the new interface features and usage, many of which come from the other browsers.

Not only does Chrome utilize Safari’s WebKit engine, it also receives referrals from Firefox’s Google search bar.   Additionally, much of Chrome has been open-sourced.   But while the inspiration and the underlying mechanics of Chrome have apparent parents in the likes of Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Opera, many of the features of Chrome have Google’s touch.   For example:

–  Bookmarks: Maintaining your bookmarks is made easier by importing them from another browser and getting an easy view of your bookmarks through a new blank tab.   You can also type part of a bookmark name or URL into the Omnibox (address bar) to have Chrome “fetch” it.   Bookmarking a page is just as simple as clicking the star icon next to the Omnibox.
Figure 2: the bookmarking star next to the Omnibox in Chrome

–  Search History: By opening a new tab in Chrome you can see a tiled view of your most visited websites.   Clicking the full history link at the bottom of the view will allow you to see your browsing history by date and time.   You are even able to enter in a search to find a site by any part of the site’s name or URL.

Google Chrome
Figure 3: The Wikipedia home page as seen using Google’s Chrome (dated 09022008)

Tabbed Windows: A new window can be created at any time by dragging a tab off of the Chrome bar.   You can even drag and drop tabs between separate Chrome windows.   External links will open in a new tab directly to the right of the tab you’re viewing.   Additionally, you are able to create an application shortcut from any tab.   Perhaps the best part of the new tabbed window functionality is that if a web page malfunctions it only crashes the tab, not the whole browser.

Updated Omnibox (Address Bar): With Google’s Site Suggest built into Chrome, you can either guess the website you are looking for using keywords or enter the URL directly.   In order to access the Google search engine itself, simply type in a question mark (?) before your keyword or key phrase.

More Robust Utilities: Chrome offers a whole suite of utilities to help you manage various applications and add-ons.     The task manager shows you what tabs are running and the resources consumed.   Chrome’s inspector tool enables you to see a web page’s structure, JavaScript performance, allows you to make cascading style sheet (CSS) changes live.   Additional utilities include being able to launch a separate JavaScript debugger console for each tab and viewing the source of a web page with color coded markup and source code URLs as live links.

What makes Chrome a great new tool is that the user experience is fast, simple and intuitive from the start.   The speed and ease of use is likely to help users become more productive.   With its new and improved Internet browsing features, Google’s Chrome makes it simpler and quicker for browser users to find the content they are looking for.

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