Browser

10 things to love (and hate) about Google Chrome

With so many browsers to choose from these days, how do you decide which one is the best fit for your needs? Deb Shinder takes a look at how Chrome stacks up against its most high profile competitors.

With so many browsers to choose from these days, how do you decide which one is the best fit for your needs? Deb Shinder takes a look at how Chrome stacks up against its most high profile competitors.


Google's entry into the Web browser market made quite a splash, but now that all the buzz has died down, how does its Chrome browser stack up against the other players? Does it have Microsoft worried, or will it be a Firefox killer, as some pundits have speculated? What does it have that the rest don't have? In this article, I'll explore Chrome's features, examine its performance, and tell you what I think is great -- and not so great -- about it.

Many alternative browsers are available, but I'll be making comparisons here only with the three best known: IE, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera.

Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.

#1: Minimalist interface

Compared to IE and Firefox, the interface is paired down and simple. Whereas each of the other browsers has at least three lines of buttons, bars, menus, and so forth, Chrome has only two, using the title bar to display the tabs. You'll also notice that the other three browsers have separate boxes for typing the URL and for searching. Chrome's address box doubles as a search box. Compare the interfaces in Figure A.

Figure A

interfaces

Chrome (bottom right) has a simpler, more minimalist interface than the other popular browsers.

This minimalist look may be something to love or something to hate, depending on your personal preferences. Some people like having a button for everything right there, easy to find and click. Others dislike the clutter and prefer to devote more screen space to the Web page itself.

#2: Tab isolation

One of the best new features in IE 8 is tab isolation, which runs each tab in its own individual process. This takes more memory, but it means that if one tab crashes, it doesn't take the whole browser down with it. Chrome has a similar feature. If you visit a page that hangs up the browser (Java is notorious for this), instead of shutting down the whole browser as so often happens with IE 7, the individual tab for that page closes and the rest of your open tabs aren't affected. No more losing your place after hours of research when a bad page suddenly shuts down a dozen tabs.

#3: New tab options

In Firefox and IE 7, when you open a new tab, it's just a blank page until you input a URL. In Opera, you can set specific Web pages to appear as "speed dial" choices when you open a new tab. In IE 8, a new tab gives the option of reopening tabs you've closed during the current session, restoring your previous browsing session, starting InPrivate Browsing, or using an Accelerator. In Chrome, by default the new tab shows you thumbnails of your most visited Web sites as well as the option to show your full browsing history or search your history, as shown in Figure B. I like IE 8's new tab options best, but Chrome comes in second.

Figure B

tab options

When you open a new tab in Chrome, you see thumbnails of your frequently visited pages, making it easy to go to one of them.

#4: Session recovery

Although Chrome doesn't, by default, give you the option to restore your last browsing session when you open a new tab, you can configure it to automatically open your last session when you start the browser. This is done by clicking the Tools icon at the right of the address bar and selecting Options. On the Basics tab, you can see that the default is to open your home page when the browser starts. Select Restore The Pages That Were Open Last to open up the tabs from your previous browsing session, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

previous session

You can set Chrome to restore the last session on startup.

Whichever way it's implemented, this is a lifesaver if you accidentally close the browser (or have to shut down the computer) when you have lots of tabs open that you need to go back to again.

Note that Firefox will offer to restore your last session if the browser crashes or unexpectedly closes, and like Chrome, it can be set to automatically restore the last session on startup. Opera also has a session restore feature and is set by default to continue from the last session. Thus the difference is in how this is implemented.

#5: Dynamic tabs

One of the coolest features in Chrome, and the one I love most, is its dynamic tabs. Opera is the only other member of the Top Four that has this feature. In these two browsers, if you have several tabs and you decide you'd like one of them to appear in a separate browser window of its own, you just grab the tab title with your cursor and drag it off the current browser window onto the desktop, where it becomes a separate window open to that page. This is very useful when you need to compare two pages side by side. IE doesn't allow you to drag from the tab at all, and if you try it in Firefox, it creates a shortcut to the page on the desktop instead of opening the page in a window.

#6: Incognito mode

Similar to IE 8's InPrivate mode, Chrome has a feature that lets you prevent pages from being saved in your history and Internet cache and deletes any new cookies after you close the browser window, to cover your tracks concerning your Web browsing habits. You open an incognito window from the Page menu (first icon to the right of the address bar). You can have some windows running in incognito mode while others are running in standard browsing mode.

Note that according to reports, Firefox 3.1 (beta 1 to be released in October) will also have a private mode.


Tip

If you're really concerned about privacy, you might be interested in the Chrome Privacy Guard tool, which automatically deletes the unique client ID that's assigned to each installation of Chrome before starting the browser. It's a free download.


#7: Web applications

Here's a rather neat idea for Web applications such as Gmail. Now you can create a shortcut on the desktop, in the Start menu, and/or on the Quick Launch bar and open your Web apps without opening the browser (Figure D). Of course, the app uses the browser, but it opens in a special dedicated window that's even more streamlined than Chrome's own interface, so it feels more like you're using a regular local application rather than the Web. This is actually a very handy feature.

Figure D

app browser

You can create shortcuts to open Web apps such as Gmail in a special dedicated, streamlined application window

Also note that you aren't limited to Google's applications; I created a Web app shortcut for my Hotmail account (although the Hotmail Web site will try to persuade you to upgrade your Web browser to IE, Firefox, or Safari and warns that if you continue to the site, some parts may not display properly. So far as I can tell, though, Hotmail works fine in Chrome.

#8: Themes

Do you like the Chrome browser but aren't so crazy about its somewhat "blah" look? As with other browsers, you can dress it up with a theme (Figure E). Go to www.themesforchrome.com and download a theme. Save it to any location you want on your hard disk and then copy it to the following directory:
  • On Windows XP: <drive letter>\Documents and Settings\<user name>\Local Settings\Application Data\Google\Chrome\Application\<version number>\Themes\
  • On Windows Vista: <drive letter>\Users\<user name>\AppData\Local\Google\Chrome\Applications\<version number>\Themes\

Figure E

themes

You can give Chrome a different look by installing a theme such as this one, called Project Red.

I use several different browser clients, and I like to use themes to quickly differentiate them.

#9: Performance

My own experience and (unscientific) performance tests, running on Windows Vista Ultimate on a Dell XPS with 4 GB of RAM, show Chrome to be slightly slower than IE 8 and Opera v.9.52 and slightly faster than Firefox v.3.0.1 in opening most Web sites. Interestingly, Chrome took a long time to open the Gmail site, longer than any of my other browsers. On initial startup, Chrome opens slightly faster than IE 8 and Firefox and about as quickly as Opera.

I don't see speed as a major issue with any of the current browsers; all are sufficiently fast for my needs (and all are noticeably faster than IE 7).

With all four browsers open to the same Web site, with only one tab open, Chrome shows three running processes using a total of 33,440 K of memory; IE 8 shows four running processes using 112,400 K of memory; Firefox shows one running process using 47,680 K of memory; and Opera shows one running process using 42,984 K of memory. Thus Chrome uses less memory than any of the others, with a single page open.

#10: Security

Web browsers are a favorite target of attackers, and it's unlikely that any browser will ever be completely secure. One day after release of the first public beta, Chrome was found to have a security vulnerability that exploits Webkit and a Java bug. Shortly thereafter, a critical buffer overflow vulnerability was identified by a Vietnamese security company. These vulnerabilities appear to have been patched by Google's updates.

As with any browser, it's vitally important to apply updates regularly. Because Chrome is new and has a high profile, we can expect attackers to make it a prime target.

Summary

Chrome is a good browser, especially when you consider that it's Google's first try at this. It doesn't contain much that's unique; most of its best features have already been done in IE 8, Firefox, and/or Opera. But it does combine some of the best of those browsers. In my experience, Chrome is not appreciably faster than the latest versions of its competitors, but it's considerably speedier (and less crash prone) than the browser most people are currently using (IE 7).

Like IE 8, Chrome doesn't correctly render some Web pages (those built for IE 6 and 7), but unlike IE 8, it doesn't offer users a "broken page" button that fixes the problem -- not that we would expect Google to provide that option to emulate the previous versions of IE, but it is an advantage that IE 8 has over Chrome.

I expect to continue to use IE 8 as my primary browser, but Chrome is a good option and I like it better, in many ways, than the current version of Firefox. It's great to have so many choices, especially so many good choices. In my opinion, Chrome's appearance on the scene is a good thing because it will further motivate Mozilla, Microsoft, and Opera to keep improving their browsers.


Debra Littlejohn Shinder is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. These include Scene of the Cybercrime: Computer Forensics Handbook, published by Syngress, and Computer Networking Essentials, published by Cisco Press. She is editor of WXPnews (www.wxpnews.com) and VistaNews (www.vistanews.com) and for the past five years has been awarded the Microsoft MVP in enterprise security.

About

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

45 comments
pgill
pgill

"not that we would expect Google to provide that option to emulate the previous versions of IE, but it is an advantage that IE 8 has over Chrome." Firefox offers an add-on that allows you to right-click on a link and open it in an IE window inside the Firefox browser. This has been a tremendous help for me on those pages where the programmer didn't consider Firefox users when writing code.

gandhawk
gandhawk

In Chrome you cannot right click on a picture and save it to the clipboard. A showstopper for me. Otherwise I like Chrome.

Folksenator
Folksenator

First of all, for step five, 'Dynamic Tabs'. What you said doesn't make much sense. From my experience the desktop has nothing to do with separating the tab from the other tabs. All it consists of is dragging the tab anywhere that is not on the tab bar. Second, something you didn't mention, is that chrome uses a unique method for running in private mode. It writes the cache into the memory, meaning that it is never written on the physical drive. Which is what the other browsers do, as far as I know anyway. All the other browsers do is delete the cache after it was written. Which can then be recovered by anyone with the knowhow. Whereas with chromes method it is extremely difficult, if not impossible with the current known level of technology. In addition there is one more feature that is, first of all unique to chrome, or at least I don't know of any browser that does it. It is the ability to resize text fields such as the one I am typing in right now. It is useful for people who are typing alot and are using a small text box, AND want to have a look at the total of their text.

johngml
johngml

Nice post but it seemed to almost completely ignore Firefox. On number 3 you can use the Speed dial extension to do exactly the same. On number 4, Session Manager does far more in Firefox allowing a choice of where to restore to. On number 6, Firefox can delete your history on shutdown if you wish. On number 8 you have a large choice of themes. On number 9, I would agree and suggest not using the Adblock Plus extension on Firefox and it eats loads of memory (over 600mb). I have tried all of the browsers in this feature. Opera was completely unstable on two different computers and although it was fast it was unusable. IE8 froze very very often making it a complete pain. It may have more features than IE7 but it never ran long enough to find them. Tried this on two computers including a fresh install. Chrome works but I just don't like the lack of features and I really feel unsecure using it as I just don't trust Google with my information. Firefox 3 is my favourite. It does everything I want, it is stable, has loads of features, is easy to customise to what you want and on top of that it feels like it works for me and not me having to work how the program wants.

kmilind
kmilind

new users of Chrome be ware! you can not export bookmarks, settings. this means, unless one uses something like GoogleChromeBackup, all your nice new bookmarks are stuck with your old computer, only at one place!

BahalaNa
BahalaNa

I experienced a problem with Google Chrome and a WYSIWYG editor. Funky characters were inserted after submission.. a result of the incompatibility between the editor's target JavaScript versions and Chrome's JS engine, I believe. The horrible part was the issue was not apparent because everything looked fine before submitting.

atoms
atoms

"Similar to IE 8's InPrivate mode"... IE8 is quite recent. Apple's Safari browser has had a Private Browsing mode available since 2005. When all you know is Windows all sorts of old things appear to be new and shiny.

K7AAY
K7AAY

How to implement #7 if Chrome is NOT the default browser? Inquiring minds want to know!

dbecker
dbecker

It looks like Chrome is reversed engineered IE8. How likely is it that Microsoft will sue Google over rights?

ScarF
ScarF

Definitely, Chrome has problems with the presentation of the Web pages. As an example, we use Canit for filtering spam messages. This application is installed on a Debian box and has a web application for administrating the queues. I can tell that the application is pretty basic in regards of the HTML used. Chrome is the only browser I use that presents messed pages. The forms' fields are overlapping with images and other content. And, this isn't the only web site with problems but, I am not detailing the list now. Before even considering other performance or interface aspects, I believe that the biggest priority for any browser is to render the pages correctly. I love Google but, when it comes to applications, it is my belief that they lunch unfinished products on the market. And, this looks like amateurism to me. It is like their applications are developed at night time, in a garage, while being drunk - dudes, take this as a joke (sic!).

ToadWiz
ToadWiz

I like Chrome and I like having detached tabs, even if they aren't completely detached as another respondent pointed out. But my issue is security. With Firefox and the Adblock Plus and NoScript filters, I figure I'm about as safe as I can be using a browser. I have to specifically allow a page to use scripts, which means I can surf without worrying (much.) Adblock speeds up page loading by an observed factor of 3. (Yes any other browser which blocks ads will also be faster. Is it cheating because FF does it so well?) I don't expect Google to offer that or even comment on it. A company which expects to make money from advertising can hardly suggest or even comment on ad blocking. Finally FF runs on Linux and Windows ... and probably Macs for all I know. One and only one interface to learn.

JMIRTC
JMIRTC

I have IE7, IE7 36Bit, FF3.0.2, Opera 9.52, Safari and Iron installed on my PC. Iron is a stripped down Ver of Chrome (One that does not send any data back to Google. Worth a look http://www.srware.net/software_srware_iron.php (German site but Iron has English UI

phyrefly.phyre
phyrefly.phyre

Google have surprised me with Chrome. There's no integration with their web services (and no compatibility with the google task bar). I use google bookmarks to keep track of pages I want to visit between computers, but none of the ways of adding bookmarks work in Chrome, besides visiting the bookmarks site and manually adding one. You can't bookmark the google-supplied scriptlet, and can't add the toolbar. Other than that, I'm still using Chrome, although it doesn't handle plugins very well from what I can see so far (flash has crashed it far too many times for me). Tab separation is a myth. They're all too connected to the Browser's main thread, meaning that if the current tab slows up to a halt, you can't switch tabs!

jfreedle2
jfreedle2

Still would never use this garbage ware.

mail
mail

I am happy with the google chrome interface.... but it has got some security holes in that.... I prefer to use firefox..... It needs to be upgraded.... www.futuretechwriters.com mail@futuretechwriters.com

nathaniel_ng
nathaniel_ng

I've tried IE (til version 7), Firefox (on Win/Linux) and Safari (on Win/Mac), and have decided to stick with Firefox primarily because of one plug-in: Ubiquity (http://labs.mozilla.com/2008/08/introducing-ubiquity/). Here are my ten things for the Ubiquity command line that . 1. "add lunch with friends tomorrow at 12pm" adds an appointment to my Google calendar. 2. "wiki " opens the wikipedia entry for that term. 3. "calc 3/5+1" responds with "3/5+1 = 1.6" 4. "define " gives the definition of a word 5. "google " gives the Google page for that item. 6. "map 5th Avenue, New York" brings me straight to 5th Avenue, New York on Google maps. 7. "translate hello to French" gives me "bonjour" 8. "weather London" gives me the weather & temperature in London. 9. "amazon Firefox" gives me a list of Amazon books on firefox. 10. "youtube firefox" gives me the youtube search page for Firefox. try doing that with any other browser with just one click!

Greenknight_z
Greenknight_z

Firefox has always had search from the location bar; in Fx 3 you have to type "searchterm", or it searches your already-visited URLs. The search box can be deleted, though it also provides the UI for switching search engines and adding search engines. You can easily customize Firefox, eliminate one or two toolbars if you wish. There's also an extension that auto-hides the toolbars, if you want maximum screen space. Firefox 3 has a "Most Visited' folder on the Bookmarks Toolbar, also the Smart Location Bar provides a dropdown with your most-used links. These can be opened in a new tab by middle-click. I don't see the advantage of having these under New Tab, it just means an extra click when you want to open a blank tab - the only thing I use New Tab for.

ralph.bacon
ralph.bacon

Other than that it is great - I've been using it as my primary browser since it launched. That's the only way to see if it works for you.

posternb
posternb

While you cannot simply drag a tab from Firefox onto the desktop to create a new window, you can drag tabs between open windows. I often have multiple instances of Firefox open, to group my tabs and keep fewer tabs in each window. I'll have one window with my client's project tabs, another window with the research for that project, and another with my personal browsing. But if I open a link from email, it may open in the wrong window. I regularly drag a tab from one window to another. I'll often just [CTRL]-N to open a new window, and then drag the desired tab to the new window. I know it's an extra step, but it is certainly a fairly quick alternative to the Dynamic Browsing in Opera & Chrome. Cheers!

cquirke
cquirke

Hmm... you show IE8 as "cluttered" because it's got toolbars added. Without that junk, it's about as lean as Chrome or Firefox. Things I hate about Chrome: 1) Installs code to a "data" location 2) Stupid download default locations (desktop, "My Documents" data set... no, I don't want malware code dumped in my data and backups, thanks) 3) No control over web cache size or location 4) Stealth vendor-pushed updates with no UI to disable 5) Dismal safety track record, plus vendor slow to disclose what their pushed updates actually do

dinosaur_z
dinosaur_z

Not to be too picky, but you must not really use FF that much. You're using 3.0.1 but the latest is 3.0.3 The title implies you love/hate Google Chrome, but you seem to come off as favoring IE8. To me, installing new themes in FF is easy, just click and install, no downloading to specific dir. With the Restart FF, all the open tabs come right back the way they were. On to plugins: I don't use IE because of the inconvenient methods of blocking ad's and scripts, I use FF because of Noscript and Flashblock, (among others). Because the ads and flash garbage doesn't load by default, it seems that FF loads the pages faster. Oh, and if you really need to run a page in IE, because of a site that doesn't like FF, just use the IEtab plugin. On the rare occasion that I HAVE to use IE, I hate all the ads and flashing stuff. Oh and IE & Chrome is not an option on my MacBook Pro. I use FF3 on it and my WinXP desktop.

icbhod
icbhod

In both IE7 and Firefox, the ability to have something other than a blank page come up in a new tab is an option....in fact, as I recall, in Firefox, the user has to specifically chose to open new tabs with a blank page.

techrepublic@
techrepublic@

You must be kidding, right?! That is 6 time memory more than my Firefox uses and I have Adblock Plus (AD) and many other extensions installed. If that occurs on your system then I would recommend removing AP, deleting all AP configuration and reinstalling. Maybe that will solve the problem.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

I'd rather eat over 600mb of memory and have my pages load faster.

Folksenator
Folksenator

With the new version of chrome it is now possible to both manage bookmarks with more fluidity, plus you can import and export your bookmarks. Plus you can import your bookmarks from IE or Firefox anytime from the wrench menu.

Folksenator
Folksenator

If you are the type of person who really wants security of privacy then Chromes private mode may be just what they want. The way it works as far as I know is that chrome writes the cache into the memory, so it is never physically written into the hardrive. I don't even know if it is even possible to retrieve the information, if so it would most likely take person specialized in all the nuances of how memory works. Although, personally I have NO IDEA how to manage that.

techrepublic@
techrepublic@

Private browsing also available in Firefox with Stealther extension. Don't forget to use a encrypting and anonimizing proxy (e.g. tor) when private browsing or it won't be private.

mcoss
mcoss

I am surprised it took this long for a fanboy/fangirl to point out that Safari can do one thing that other browsers can (even added and exclamation mark).

Folksenator
Folksenator

The default browser makes no difference in the opperability of the application shortcut. I was curious if having a different browser as default would make a differnence, so I changed it to Firefox. It made no difference. I even made a new shortcut out of the post to test it for sure.

Folksenator
Folksenator

Do you realize how many features each browser uses that the others also started implementing? What is chrome doing that you think is a clone of IE8, that other browsers aren't also using?

bmp55
bmp55

Although it would be more helpful if you could substantiate your view.

jr.dalrymple
jr.dalrymple

Opera has had search keywords builtin (no plugins necessary) for years now. I can actually do 2-10 with far fewer clicks than you indicated. Furthermore I can write my own customized search keywords for those that aren't already builtin. As for #1, Opera has plugins and widgets galore, but I don't use Google calendar so I'd be a poor authority on that one. You didn't indicate in your opening comment that you'd tried Opera. I recommend trying it sometime. I personally use IE, FF, Opera and Chrome all for different applications. IE for M$ compatability, FF for open standards compatability, Opera for day to day browsing (about 60 tabs open right now in 3 different windows) and Chrome for novelty's sake at this point. Maybe you should change your last line to "try doing that with any other browser (besides Opera) with just one click!"

atoms
atoms

without having to bother with a plugin. Some are even easier. For example "calc 3/5+1" does not work in Chrome, but "3/5+1" does. The one I noticed that does not work is a Google calendar entry.

neilsequeiranew1234567
neilsequeiranew1234567

Why because i hate all other browsers. I hate Installations. Second why i love Portable Mozilla Firefox 2.0.17 is the plugin support that Mozilla 3.0 doesnt have. I hate IE from bottom of my soul. I rarely use it as a browser 1/100 sites that dont work on MF is the reason and google chrome is still a baby so commenting on a baby isnt a good thing. Google Chrome is still in its initial stage i presume.

Folksenator
Folksenator

Quote: "While you cannot simply drag a tab from Firefox onto the desktop to create a new window, you can drag tabs between open windows." Why do you say desktop? That implys you can only drag the new tab to an open space where you can see the desktop. Which is not so! You can drag the tab to any part of your screen space, as long as it is not on chromes tab bar, and presto, you have a new window! Or are joined to another window.

valerio
valerio

Safari also has Dynamic Tabs (At least on my Mac Book Pro, I have not tried it on Windows). You can drag any tab and create a new window. Another feature that I've seen on Safari is the Merge All Windows which merges all open Safari windows into tabs on a single window... This is a cool feature for me as I use it all the time...

mattohare
mattohare

The default installations of IE hide the menu bar and most of the tool bars. All you get is the tab bar with a few tools off to the right. The only IE I've seen set up like that was on a novice user's workstation at the office. It did make me wonder about the objectivity of the article until I read farther in.

Folksenator
Folksenator

I have used Firefox for years, and have never seen such an option. I've had to resort to using an extension. If you could I would like to know how to turn this on without the use of an extension. Thanks!

pthavampire
pthavampire

Firefox has a wide range of (useful) addons. That's what I like about it. I saw the addons of chrome... and they are (up to this moment) very limited in number. I promise I'll try chrome if they have more or less the same addons as I use in firefox! Regards, Samuel

tim uk
tim uk

As a regular and long-term Opera user, I'm wondering what features Chrome has which should tempt me away from Opera. As a browser, Opera does all I need, plus it has a reasonable ad-blocking component (could be improved though) and a Torrent client too; for instance how do Chrome's versions of these compare?

neilsequeiranew1234567
neilsequeiranew1234567

I am a Mozilla user so i dont need a shiny browser like Gooogle Chrome. It may be buggy

bdilsen
bdilsen

using Opera for many years but as the Opera come up with today's version 9.52, chrome might do the same thing in maybe one time. google understand the important thing, user friendlines, so it may have the same features (and more user friendliness) in some time. but that means many opera users will not be convinced to change their default browser to Chrome for at least one year, I think.

pavelonsky
pavelonsky

Remember Chrome it's just a baby, beta means it needs to be polished, but for a start Chrome it's a very powerful browser, all features from other browsers will come slowly. I'm using Firefox 3 regular and Chrome for google sites and other JavaScript based sites, which is my favorite thing about Chrome, it's speed on JavaScript.

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