How do you refine a piece of software that everyone has been using since the Internet arrived on home computers in the mid 1990s?
The answer, as Google will tell you, is to make it smarter and slicker. Its Chrome browser, launched on Tuesday, promises to give people the information they need faster and also offer a more intuitive interface.
An answer to Microsoft’s recently announced Internet Explorer 8 beta 2, it has some of Microsoft’s nifty new features, as well as the appeal of being “alternative”.
The new features include:
–smart omnibar – basically a URL bar which doubles up as a search bar; as you type, say “microsoft”, you’ll get a list of microsoft sites that you’ve either visited previously or which others have searched online of late. You’ll probably get the suggestions before you complete typing the phrase.
–Incognito privacy mode – similar to what IE 8 offers, this lets you surf without leaving a trail of personal data stored on cookies, the browser cache, etc.
The downsides? Being still in beta, the look is a bit spartan. Fortunately, the core code seems to be stable and well-built (Google says it was tested internally with thousands of users). And just about everything “feels” slightly smarter than Firefox (IE7 is a long distance behind).
The bigger question is whether Google can really leverage on the faster browser engine to ensure that its online alternatives of Word, Excel and Powerpoint will work well in future.
Why couldn’t it simply rely on Mozilla, which it also helps funds? Google folks say they want something built from ground up. Chrome’s faster Java engine, they point out, beats even Mozilla, which it shares a lot of code with. Google, however, says its online docs users won’t be tied to its browser, and these apps will work on other browsers too.
But it’s a circular argument. If the apps can run well on other browsers, why bother building one themselves? And if its new browser does not “tie in” online doc users, why have a browser that is “optimised” for these online apps?
Sure, Chrome is open source; Microsoft IE is not. One tries to follow W3C, the other bastardises it (at least the older versions do). But you can’t help thinking if Google is trying to keep its turf intact, looking over the shoulder at future IE versions that may somehow contrive to run its online apps poorly.
So, the question is: will Chrome make a dent in IE’s 75 per cent market share? It’s unclear. On one hand, if you go by Firefox’s appeal as an “alternative” browser, you’d think that Google, with its shinier brand and guaranteed media coverage, will get even more downloads.
On the other, if you really think about it, will these users be the same early-adopter power users cum anything-but-Microsoft crowd who have been downloading Mozilla?
If so, wouldn’t Google be grabbing share from Mozilla rather than its intended target IE? After all, by Google’s admission, the bulk of Internet users don’t even know there’s an alternative to the blue IE icon they have been clicking on ever since they took the PC out of the box.
Will these folks learn to download a piece of new software and bother to install it? It’s the same thing with Linux – why buy Windows when there’s something free out there which promises to “free” you from Microsoft’s enslavement? The answer: because ordinary users so used to Windows don’t care.
All said, it’s not doom and gloom, of course. We’ve seen how Windows improved its security and other features when prodded on by competition from Mac OS and Linux. Now, at the least, we’d see an improved IE8 by the end of this year. If you don’t like that, heck, there’s always Google Chrome. That’s the result of competition for users.
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I hesitate to use even upgraded versions of Chrome, since my last experience using it (first version) left my computer compromised; have they fixed the security issues beyond all doubt?
sori… I think should be your report in Straits Times last week…
Hello Mr Chan,
well, I’ve been waiting for GMail and Picasa to make it out of Beta since like…..wow, our afternoon SPH canteen kopi story discussions.
Forever and a day, in other words.
Since then, we’ve had miracles happening like winning a Silver Medal in the Olympics after 48 years and Botak Jones opening a branch at Toa Payoh North.
Yes, I like to talk about winning steaks.
May The Beta if not the Best Browser Win.
Hmmm… for now will be sticking to Firefox until Chrome gets out of Beta.
Main reason is that I can’t stand the auto-filter for certain sites (aka p0rn sites and the like). This is NOT a discussion about surfing habits, but more about what control the user has over his or her browsing experience. Leave the power to the user!
Second, some of my sites seem to load slower, esp. all those with lots of vids and flash plug-ins. A chore to reconfig my browser again to work with all these plug-ins.
Chrome has lots of potential, but I’ll wait till it’s out of Beta. Certain issues need to be smoothed out. For now, my main browsing gal is still Firefox.
Having used Firefox (my default), IE, Safari (when on my mac) and tried Opera, I’ve got to say I do quite like Chrome after having tested it out.
A few things immediately stand out. Chrome’s smart autocomplete for URLs is pretty interesting and definitely something I could get used to. Basically you type in a URL and Google tries to complete it with the sites that make the most sense. Pretty accurate sometimes too. Good job.
And the history pane for most visited sites (with small screencaps for sites) is a great idea. I also like the very clean settings option — now clearing your computer of browsing history is the easiest thing to do, something I can easily envision being used when you’re using a computer that’s not yours. No need to jump into a thousand options and panes to get to this function.
Aesthetically, I like clean interfaces, and Chrome is very stripped down. Reminds me of Blackbox when I used to run a Linux GUI. Nice! I guess the target demographic for Chrome would be folks like me! 🙂
Agreed. Many people continue to use Windows/IE coz they are familiar with it and their software runs on it. The whole “touch and feel” factor should not be discounted when we talk about migrating users to stuff that techies think are no-brainers.
“It’s the same thing with Linux – why buy Windows when there’s something free out there which promises to “free” you from Microsoft’s enslavement? The answer: because ordinary users so used to Windows don’t care.”
I think there are also a few more other reasons.. Like the fact some applications do not run on Linux at all. This is the only reason why I’m still on Windows and cursing it everyday. I use those applications everyday and it’s too much of a hassle to reboot everytime I want to use it.
Ignorance also plays a part. Majority of IE’s users are not tech savvy. They probably don’t know nuts about IT anyway. They probably thought that was all they could get.