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Thursday, September 4, 2008

7 Really Awesome Things About Google Chrome

I didn’t expect this. I fired up Google’s Web browser, Chrome, expecting very little except a stripped down early beta with a plethora of bugs. After playing with it for a while, it’s too early to say that I’m blown away, but I must admit that I’ve stumbled onto some impressive feats which show that the team that built Chrome was intelligent, mature and forward-thinking. Here they are, in no particular order.

1. Blazing fast

Chrome actually uses WebKit for rendering Web pages, the same rendering engine as Safari, which is known to be very fast. Put that in a simple, well optimized, stripped down shell and you get the fastest Web browser around. It loads fast, it displays pages fast, and we’re talking noticeable differences here, which really makes it a joy to use. Don’t just take my word for it, check out some early benchmarks.

2. Chews code like there’s no tomorrow

This one goes hand in hand with being fast, but it’s a little different. Today, it’s not all that important for a browser to render a lot of HTML quickly; browsers are now platforms in which you run applications: two, three, perhaps even a dozen at a time. Therefore, a good browser can handle dynamic content without stuttering and crashing, and from what I’ve seen, Chrome passes the test with flying colors.

True, I haven’t had enough time to test this thoroughly, but the folks over at scriptNode have put together some benchmarks and it seems that Chrome not only handles good code well, it also excels at handling errors.

3. Incognito mode

Click the control icon in the upper right corner of the browser and you’ll get the option to open a new tab, a new window, or a new incognito window. Incognito window will fire up without appearing in browser or search history, and it won’t leave cookies or any other traces of your activity, except files you’ve downloaded or bookmarks. Yes, Safari has it, too, but it’s a nice jab at Firefox which skipped some similar privacy features in version 3.0.

4. Easy to switch

When you’re entering a saturated market with a new product, you can’t change everything. You must carefully balance the features you want to blatantly copy with the ones you want to innovate in. I was pleased to see that Google Chrome was built with this in mind; for example, it’s easy to switch from Firefox, but it does bring enough novelties to make you stick around. Importing your bookmarks from Firefox is easy and works well; and other details, like keyboard shortcuts, are the same. Therefore, Chrome’s learning curve is virtually non-existent; start it up and you’ll be browsing as usual in no time.

5. Intelligent start page

Although not completely original (Opera has got a similar approach to quick bookmarking), Chrome’s start page is a pleasant surprise. Besides the ubiquitous search bar, it gives you a list of most commonly visited Web pages to fire up quickly. Granted, I’ve always hated suggestions of that ilk (for example, I’ve never, ever used the commonly used programs feature in Windows), but here it just works, because the pages you frequently visit really are the ones you want to open first.

6. Has its own task manager

Chrome treats tabbed windows as separate processes. Nice, we’ve already seen that in IE8, right? But Chrome also has a nifty way to see what’s going on: a task manager. Similar to the task manager in Windows, it lets you see which processes are active (inside Chrome), and how much memory, CPU, and network resources they use. Beautiful. You can access it by right clicking Chrome’s title bar.

7. Dragging tabs out and back in again

It’s a little thing, but it warms my heart. You can drag a tab out of Chrome into a separate window, and you can drag a separate window back into tab bar, where it’ll be happily received by Chrome. Stuff like this turns geeks into converts, and Google’s dev team knows that.