It's not every day a whole new browser comes out. It's even less common for that new browser to make lead story status in mainstream media outlets*. But today both happened as Google released their browser, Chrome.

Initial impressions are that its 'innovative features' are essentially an amalgam of other browsers; plus it uses bits of Safari, Firefox and IE (settings panel) so it's kind of Frankenstein's browser. But no matter what you think of its pedigree it does feel fast.

[*] Chrome's release was top story news at The Australian and, for those of you playing at home. It might have been top story on other sites too, I didn't have time to look around. Standard disclaimer: I work for News Digital Media.

how fast is it?

Precisely how fast it is depends on who you ask. Naturally if you ask Google they'll tell you it's the fastest browser that has ever existed; although they tend to just talk about the Javascript engine rather than overall performance. Google's own Javascript benchmark yields the unsurprising result that Chrome is far quicker than the others.

Let's face facts, companies choose whichever benchmark makes their product look best. Other tests show different results:

So the only consistent result is that everything is faster than IE. I'm rather partial to Lifehacker: Speed Testing the Latest Web Browsers, where nobody won across the board :)

So, is Chrome fast? Forget the numbers, everyone says it feels fast and that's pretty much what counts at the end of the day. It's more of an emotional measurement. It's quick. Paint it red.

security and rendering flaws

Along with Webkit's benefits, Chrome also inherited its first security flaw: Serious Security Flaw in Google Chrome - ReadWriteWeb. It's not even listed as a product on Secunia yet..!

Interestingly there are also some rendering inconsistencies: Google Chrome vs Safari 3.1 on Flickr (some CSS properties not working, border-radius not anti-aliased...).

privacy controversy

It really was a big first day for Chrome, with the first privacy concerns blogged within hours: Does Google Have Rights to Everything You Send Through Chrome? - ReadWriteWeb. Matt Cutts responds that all is above board: Preventing paranoia: when does Google Chrome talk to

Let's cut to the chase. Google can do whatever it wants with any information you enter or reveal while using their products. There is nothing to stop them. So the real question is not can they do it - yes, they can - but do you trust them not to?

Do you trust Google?

odd name

I have to say the name does seem like an odd choice to me. For anyone who didn't know, the interface elements of a browser are called the 'chrome'. So we could end up having to talk about Chrome's chrome at some point.

More to the point though, chrome is generally shiny but non-functional bling; and 'chroming' is another name for petrol or glue sniffing. Neither association seems like something you'd want with your new product. Interestingly, Wikipedia has already been updated to include a reference to 'chroming' meaning 'to browse with Google Chrome'. I didn't realise things like that became canonised in a day, but hey ;)

I guess it's not like Opera, Firefox or Mozilla are the most immediately obvious names anyway (compare that with Navigator, Explorer, Safari - all related to finding things and travelling around). So who's to judge? :)

Anyway, so far I haven't seen an explanation from Google for the name. No doubt it's out there somewhere. Maybe it was buried somewhere in that cartoon (I haven't been able to get through the whole thing, I have to admit).

a bit of fun

Google threw a lot of geeky fun into Chrome. Options are labelled with things like 'stats for nerds'; entering about:internets into the address bar reveals a fun easter egg; and some of the error messages are a bit... unconventional:

Oh you! Oh snap!

OK, so actually I could have lived without my browser saying 'Aw, snap' to me before I had my coffee ;) I do wonder if this sort of geekyness will put off mainstream users - time will tell I guess.

so why is google doing this?

There's heaps of speculation going around regarding Google's motivation for releasing a browser. After all they don't need to do it, since people are having no trouble finding Google as far as I can tell...

I think the explanation probably goes back to a message that was loud and clear at Google Developer Day (literally, they openly said this): Google wants to be synonymous with everything you do on the web.

They want all their services' names to become verbs, I guess ;) Google it. YouTube it.

Basically Google are in a position that's probably unique: the more people use the web, the more money they make (from their ads). Literally, that's as specific as it needs to get for Google. So long as we're online, they make money. I don't think there are any other companies that can say something quite so broad and still be serious.

the google gloss

We'd had the first 'do we support Chrome?' question before we'd had lunch; and it wasn't just the tech staff that were talking about Chrome. People certainly do notice Google products.

Personally, I don't think Chrome is about to sweep the world and take over the entire browser market (that said, anything's possible). There's a big novelty factor right now, but it's not so fundamentally different from any other browser that you simply can't live without it.

It's fast, it's multi-threaded, it has tabs. Umm, just like most other browsers. Even the Wikipedia entry for Chrome is littered with 'like Opera' and 'like Firefox' references. There's even a 'like IE8' in there.

So it's probably not going to cruel the other 'alternative' browsers from the market. I do think it's a legitimate danger to IE though. It's the only other browser from a company the average punter has actually heard of.

Think about that - a lot of alternative and open source products get smashed by FUD tactics. "They're too small", "how do you know it's made properly" and that sort of crap. But it's harder to get that sort of FUD going over a product from a company as widely recognised as Google.

last thoughts

Google might attract conspiracy theorists as fast as geeks, but nobody thinks they're a flash in the pan. People who wouldn't try an open source product like Firefox might just give Chrome a go (they probably won't even notice Chrome's open source). People who've never heard of Opera won't know where they can already get speed dial and top placement of tabs. Lots of things that geeks think about simply won't matter.

I can see a lot of people trying Chrome even though they've always used IE. Quite a few of them will probably like what they see, too. It's a pretty good browser and it'd certainly be new and shiny after years of IE. That, or people will just stick with whatever they're already using, since habits don't change easily.

One thing is for sure - it's going to be interesting to see what happens next.


Update 2008.09.07 - It has come to light that Chrome does not support even basic accessibility features in its first release: Google Chrome Accessibility - The Paciello Group Blog. Google has a terrible track record for accessibility, so it's discouraging to see Chrome start badly in this regard.

Obviously it remains to be seen whether accessibility features are incorporated as the browser progresses. A comment at the Paciello Group Blog post suggests that Google do plan to incorporate accessibility features, they just didn't put them into the initial release. Here's hoping that's true.