Somebody let the cat out of the bag a day early. So writes Sundar Pichai, VP Product Management at Google in the Official Google Blog. The premature disclosure came in the form of an online comic book illustrated by Scott McCloud. Mr. Pichai writes, “As you may have read in the blogosphere, we hit ‘send’ a bit early on a comic book introducing our new open source browser, Google Chrome.”
Actually, Pichai blamed the guys in the mail room. (Click to enlarge image.)
Chrome is Google’s new take on what a web browser should be. In an unexpected move, it’s also an open-source project. This means that code and components from Chrome can be used and extended by other developers to help the product evolve or even be used in other products. There are further implications, too. Google is the major financial backer of Mozilla’s Firefox. Like Mozilla, Google has a great interest in web standards. That’s the idea that HTML elements and other web page components should render exactly the same way across web pages and web browsers.
So this is also making an across-the-bow shot at Microsoft, who have been known to go their own way with web standards. The market dominance of their Internet Explorer allowed them to do this. Although Internet Explorer controls about 75 % of the market, Firefox and now Chrome increase pressure on Microsoft to not think that standards begin and end with them.
Update: Google Chrome is now out of beta and at version 1.0. This added no new features and appears to be an effort to increase public acceptance of the browser platform. (How long, after all, has gmail been in beta? I guess they don’t need to increase public acceptance there.) If you are running Chrome on your PC, it should automatically update to version 1.0 in the next few days.
During setup, the Chrome installer asks if you want to import bookmarks and history. This worked flawlessly with Firefox 3.
I took the time to actually (mostly) read the Terms of Service. One section that I found interesting revealed that Google reserves the right to automatically update the software. They are not saying that they will update without alerting the user, but they leaving themselves the option for doing exactly so. Here is the relevant section from the terms of service:
“The software which you use may automatically download and install updates from time to time from Google. These updates are designed to improve, enhance and further develop the services and may take the form of bug fixes, enhanced functions, new software modules and completely new versions. You agree to receive such updates (and permit Google to deliver these to you) as part of your use of the services.”
It will be interesting to see if they actually implement this. Many people prefer to be informed of updates and their content before downloading and installing them for Windows. I have also been critical of the way Apple “sneaked in” the Safari browser introduction as part of an iTunes update earlier this year.
However, this is a beta product. That update policy could always change.
Let’s continue . . .
At startup Chrome displays small icons representing the most often visited web pages in the main part of the application. To the right are the Google search bar and a list of the last several pages visited. Below the URL bar are the toolbar bookmarks imported from Firefox.
Middle-clicking one of the nine icons opens that page in a new tab. As shown in the next image, the URL bar (called the “Omnibox”) goes with the tab. The bookmarks toolbar and other controls (forward/back, bookmark this page, current page options, and settings) are retained for each tab, too.
The star icon immediately to the left of the Omnibox is “bookmark this page.” When clicked, it offers to save the page in the bookmark toolbar, general bookmarks, or in a new folder.
The Omnibox has three nice features. One is that it defaults to something that you’ve actually typed before. If I type “am” and press enter, it takes me to Amazon.com. If I try the same in Firefox, the first listing in the dropdown is amazon.com, but I have to press down and enter to select it. Pressing enter while “am” is on the URL bar (“AwesomeBar” in FF3) takes me to a useless Google search.
Another nice feature is that Chrome remembers which websites are searchable. If I type “am” and then press tab, the Omnibox changes to “Search Amazon.com.” In the image below, I entered “am,” pressed tab, and then entered “cruet.” (A cruet is a small glass flask. I use them when I make homemade pepper sauce.)
And the third nice feature is that Chrome remembers some of the content of the sites you visit. An example they included in their comic was a user that had visited a site for digital cameras the day before. Instead of searching the history or trying to remember the name of the website, the user can type in “digital cameras” and Chrome will offer the website. In the image below, I’ve entered “ten best ways” in the Omnibox. It correctly remembered that I’ve visited my article page “Ten Best Ways to Save on Printer Costs.” As shown in the image, it’s offering a Google search for “ten best ways to save on printer costs” (that was me previously checking to see if the same article title already existed) and my actual article page that I last looked at several days ago.
Next: Detachable Tabs, Bookmarks, Performance, and Conclusion.
Tabs in Google Chrome are detachable and re-attachable. In the image below, I’ve dragged the Amazon search results page out onto my desktop. Re-attaching it was not tricky.
Something that has not yet been well explained is how bookmarks work in Chrome. The application seems to be much more oriented around history in general than in bookmarks in specific, but I think I found an undocumented feature here.
I have a bookmark named “Lifedrive” that goes to a Palm spare parts page. It’s well down in my list of bookmarks. I found that if I click on “Other Bookmarks” at top right and start to enter the name of a bookmark, Chrome does not hesitate - it goes to the page. In this case, I entered “li” and it took me immediately to https://www.usedpdaparts.com/Lifedrive.html.
That is pretty impressive, and fast.
In fact, quickness is a very enjoyable part of using Google Chrome, even in its current state.
Here’s what it looked like after several hours of use.
A “Searches” section appeared at top right. It contained “Search your history” and “Amazon.com.” The recent bookmarks section is mostly unchanged, and a section called “Recently closed tabs” appears at bottom right.
There are a few rough edges. “Most visited” seems to really be “Most recently visited,” and at this writing, Google Chrome is not working with Youtube.com at all.
I doubt that Google Chrome will have a large immediate effect on Firefox or Internet Explorer usage in Windows. It may do very well when the Linux and Mac OS versions are ready, and it may become the vehicle of choice for running Google web applications. It may take on OS-like responsibilities in an OS-agnostic way, and it may point the way for future development for other browsers. (Google wouldn’t mind that all. As the comic relates, Google “lives on the Internet.”)
Is it secure? So far, yes. Remember that the beta is just now getting started and a lot of stuff is not working yet. Many of the security features of Chrome are not apparent to the eye. That, in fact, will be the focus of the next article - we’ll look at those security features.
- Now - Google Chrome Review
- Next - Security Features of the Google Chrome Web Browser
- Related - Google Backs Down on Chrome Terms of Service
Chrome 0.3.154.9 released
Updated October 31, 2008
A new beta version of Google Chrome has been released. It implements an important fix where a malicious website could get the user to click a link that would result in a pop-up, and then manipulate the pop-up’s address bar to make it appear that the window had some other address. We’ve heard no reports of this happening in the wild, but Google credits Liu Die Yu of the TopsecTianRongXin research lab for discovering and disclosing the vulnerability.
Visually, not much has changed. New page, new tab, new window, and and new incognito window now always appear under the Settings (wrench) menu.
Operationally, the spell checker works now in text input fields, and words can be added to the dictionary by right-clicking a word and choosing, “Add to Dictionary.”
If you are downloading executable files, Chrome now informs you that such files can be dangerous and asks you to confirm your intention and accept the downloaded file. Since Google pre-downloads starting when you click the link, files that you don’t confirm are deleted when the session ends (upon your closing the browser).
Also, the browser no longer stores content from secure (https) websites. You can still find the links in history, though.
For the complete list of changes and fixes, please see the official Chrome release notes.
From our perspective, Google Chrome just got a little better.
We hope that you are enjoying reading and learning at the new Bright Hub.
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