Google Chrome Web Browser Beta 1 User Experience - Review

Chrome is the new web browser from Google. Its Beta program is open to public as of yesterday. Compared to other browsers in the market, Google’s interface is unique in that the whole functionality is hidden within two small buttons – a page icon for managing tabs and a wrench icon for browser options. Three rows – for holding the tabs, the address bar (called the omni bar) and buttons, and bookmarks (user has a choice to take this row out) complete the remarkably minimalist user interface.

Google was rumored to have been developing a web operating system and this is their first step in that direction. The idea is to make Google Chrome so minimalist in the interface so as to make the user feel like they are using web applications directly as opposed to using a browser to run them. A bunch of unique features make this possible while also keeping the browser as powerful as the primary competition – Internet Explorer 8 and Firefox 3.

Chrome is much more similar in its interface to Apple’s Safari, but with no explicit File Menu, Tool Bar, etc. While that design make most of the real estate available for the web applications it hosts, the product itself doesn’t look like a Windows application. The beta is only available for Windows XP and Vista although plans are for it to be made available for Linux and Mac platforms as well.

Features:
  • Omnibar: Google marketing says this feature as “One Box For Everything”. Typing in the Omnibar results in suggestions for both search and web pages.
  • Incognito Window: This allows for private browsing. It is accessible from the Page icon.
  • Thumbnails to your top sites: There is a “most visited” sites page built into the product and is the default Home page. The page has thumbnail images of the most visited sites. As with other browsers, the Home page can be configured to restore the tabs that were open last or you can choose the tabs to load at startup.
  • Shortcuts for your apps: Chrome allows you to make a desktop, start menu, or quick launch short cut to any web application. This feature along with the ability of certain applications like Google Reader and gmail to perform well in off-line mode makes this a compelling feature that has the potential to blur the line between web-applications vs normal OS applications. This is also very much a step in Google’s efforts to eat Microsoft Office applications pie.
  • Tab and Plug-in Isolation: Tabs and plug-ins are both their own processes in Chrome. This makes each tab implicitly more secure while also isolating any performance issues within that tab.
  • Task Manager: The performance of each tab along with all active plug-ins can be monitored through this window. Since each tab and plug-in runs as its own process, they can also be controlled individually – for example, if one such web application or plug-in is turning out to be a memory hog, you can just take that one tab or plug-in down.
  • Speed: The tabs load visibly faster compared to other web browsers.

Bugs/Nitpicks:
  • While attempting to import bookmarks, history, etc. from Fire Fox automatically after install, it asks to close all Firefox windows - an inconvenience to the user.
  • The Uninstall program asks the user to close all Chrome windows and try again. This is a minor inconvenience to the user.
  • Task Manager is up even when other applications are in-context just like the Windows Task Manager. While it makes sense for the Windows Task Manager, for the Google Chrome specific Task Manager, it doesn’t.
  • You can’t have two sessions with the same web-application simultaneously. This functionality should be easily achievable since the product has process isolation at the tab level.
  • Print options are limited and the Preview functionality is missing.
  • Sites that are based on Microsoft’s technology have a hard-time functioning well within Chrome. Specifically, hotmail showed warnings and sites that use Silverlight caused an error.
  • If you have History window open in one tab with the scroll-bar scrolled half-way down, browse to another tab, and come back to the History tab, the scroll-bar is back all the way up. This is another minor inconvenience.
  • The “Google Chrome” link takes you to a 38-page cartoon sequence (a nice marketing job, we must say, although some pages need editing – see picture) and at the end of it, the logical progression should have been to allow the user the option to download/install the beta. Instead, you just get a page with acknowledgements.
  • Uninstall dialog warning message has the normal warning message followed by the wording “Was it something we said?” – Didn’t quite like that wording…

Summary:
Google Chrome is in its first beta cycle and as such is not ready for prime time. The design and the features make the product a very good first-try. As the features improve during the beta cycle, it should provide a very good alternative to the other browsers in the market.

Our desktop currently has four browsers (Fire Fox, IE, Opera, and Safari in that order) and we constantly switch between them. The primary browser we use is Fire Fox and it will continue to be that for the foreseeable future. In about six months or so, Google Chrome should replace IE as our secondary browser – at least we hope so. The one feature which would make it compelling enough to make us switch to Google Chrome as the primary (and possibly only) browser will be the ability to simultaneously access different accounts of the same web application. For example, the ability to open two gmail accounts in two different tabs within the Chrome application.


9/4/2008 Update:

Early Crash/Bug Reports:
  • Undefined handler followed by special character crashes Google Chrome (all tabs and sandbox). Credit and explanations from Rishi Narang at: http://evilfingers.com/advisory/google_chrome_poc.php. This can be easily reproduced by doing one of the following: a) Type in “:%” on the Google Chrome’s address bar (omnibar) and press Enter, and b) Create an HTML page with the following content “<a href="nothing:%"><img src="nothing.jpg" /></a>”, save and access it from Google Chrome. On the web-page, mousing over the picture or clicking will crash Google Chrome.
  • Exploit “Carpet Bombing” vulnerability: The demo shows how malware can be place on windows desktop through exploiting this vulnerability in Google Chrome: http://raffon.net/research/google/chrome/carpet.html. The bug happens because Google Chrome uses an outdated version of WebKit v525.13.
  • Max-out available memory in the system using tabs that contain web applications that are resource hogs. This will cause Google Chrome to crash and in some cases the Blue Screen of Death. Not reproducible.
  • Please also see bug reports at: http://code.google.com/p/chromium/issues/list.

Related Posts:

1. Google (GOOG) - A Hard Sell For Superior Long-Term Returns!

2 comments:

jr said...

The real question is whether web browsers will be relevant at all in a few years. Applications will be written to directly work with the Open Source webkit as opposed to being designed to run within a browser. See a related article below:

http://weblog.infoworld.com/yager/archives/2008/09/skip_googles_ch.html

Dokuwiki Web Host said...

Google Chrome is considered as a far more secure and build better "under the hood". The idea of having each tab utilize it's own process is amazingly innovative, and their rebuilding of the java VM is nothing sort of amazing.The only thing where it lag behind is customization.

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