Browser

What does Google Chrome offer developers?

After taking Google Chrome for a test drive, Tony Patton discusses the new browser's tools for working with Web pages and weighs in on whether you should ditch IE or Firefox for Chrome.

 

My first reaction to Google's introduction of a beta version of its Chrome browser was: Do we really need another browser? So I decided to take Chrome for a test drive.

First impressions of Chrome

Google touts Chrome as an open source browser project, which means its main competitor seems to be Firefox and not Internet Explorer. The browser rendering engine was developed with the help of WebKit. Chrome is up and running after a painless download and install.

The first thing I noticed is the minimalist interface and its quick loading. The interface uses tabs (which most every browser does these days), but the tabs are located at the top of the window above the address bar. There is no bulky menu bar at the top and no status bar at the bottom, so it took a while to get accustomed to it. (This TechRepublic screenshot gallery offers a first look at Chrome.)

The following list outlines other Chrome features:

  • As there should be, there is a big emphasis on security in Chrome. This new browser maintains phishing and malware lists and warns users when they attempt to visit known harmful sites.
  • Google created a separate team to optimize the JavaScript engine used in Chrome. The result is the V8 JavaScript engine, which does show some improvements over its counterparts. (The various caveats of JavaScript performance are beyond this article, but there is a good discussion available online.)
  • Each tab within the browser runs in its own process -- a sort of sandbox within the browser. However, browser plug-ins are not covered in this security model. One interesting aspect of Chrome is its ActiveX support. I read many articles touting its lack of support for ActiveX, but it there is an ActiveX plug-in available.
  • An interesting feature is the ability to browse in so-called incognito mode, which means the browser maintains no history or cookies of sites visited in this mode.
  • Gears is a standard component. This is more a feature for developers, as it provides a platform for creating Web applications that can run offline.

Given the beta status of Chrome, it is no surprise to find a few bugs. The browser crashed quite a few times while browsing various sites. Maybe Google is taking a page from Microsoft in releasing software to the general public before it is ready.

What Chrome offers to developers

With Internet Explorer and Firefox capturing most users these days, why should a Web developer concern themselves with a new offering? First, given Google's footprint on the Web, it is hard to ignore anything new from the company. Of course, Google Apps is supposed to take market share from Microsoft Office but that remains to be seen. Other offerings like Google Talk have failed to dominate its space, so the Google name doesn't guarantee anything.

I like to use Firefox since it offers so many development tool plug-ins, but I still have to make sure my applications perform properly in Internet Explorer. From a developer viewpoint, Chrome provides a few tools for working with Web pages. The list includes Gears, as well as the following:

  • Web Inspector: This allows you to take a closer look at any element on the currently open page. It is available by right-clicking on an element. It allows you to browse page elements and view object properties and style. This is a feature from the WebKit base.
  • JavaScript console: This allows you to enter command-line JavaScript code that can access page elements. It opens within the Web Inspector window -- located in the bottom portion.
  • JavaScript debugger: A rudimentary command line JavaScript debugger. There is nothing intuitive about using this feature. (I did find a good tutorial online.)
  • Task Manager: This allows you to view the current processes running within Chrome; it is analogous to the Task Manager available in Windows. It shows the system resources by a process. This includes memory, network, and CPU usage. A button is provided to end a process along with link to a report that breaks down memory usage for individual processes.

All in all, this is a less than impressive list of tools for the Web developer. It remains to be seen whether more tools will become available to rival what is available with Firefox or Internet Explorer 8. At this time, I will stick with Firefox while keeping an eye on Chrome.

Don't ditch your current browser just yet

For developers, the current beta version of Chrome provides no reason to switch from Firefox or even the latest Internet Explorer version. As for everyday end users, they will stick with whatever comes with their machine (Internet Explorer) with no reason to switch. Maybe Chrome can carve out a small slice of the browser market.

But what if Google makes it necessary? The company has an overwhelming Web presence, so it would be easy to serve up pages that provide Chrome-specific features. This sounds far-fetched, but it is something to consider.

Have you used the current version of Chrome? If so, what are your impressions of Chrome? Share your thoughts in the Web Developer forum.

Additional TechRepublic resources about Chrome

Tony Patton began his professional career as an application developer earning Java, VB, Lotus, and XML certifications to bolster his knowledge.

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About

Tony Patton has worn many hats over his 15+ years in the IT industry while witnessing many technologies come and go. He currently focuses on .NET and Web Development while trying to grasp the many facets of supporting such technologies in a productio...

26 comments
smtech002
smtech002

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Snak
Snak

As this question was for developers, the sub- question, "... whether you should ditch IE or Firefox for Chrome" is somewhat missing the point. If you're a developer, your code should be suitable for every popular browser and there's no doubt Chrome will be popular. The only browser I do not specifically write code for is Safari (PC version) as I cannot believe anyone actually waits long enough for it to do anything. One thing I HAVE noticed about Chrome, is that it can be very resource hungry when you have 4 or more tabs open. I have experienced PC standstills waiting for Chrome to finish pratting about in the background. But it is pretty and I love the Nine most frequently used sites feature. I just wish there was a way of removing individual sites from that list.

msonu1975
msonu1975

My first impression about chrome is same as what Author thinks. It is fast to load and very simple. But then as I normally say "Chrome needs to be polished before it shines". In order to get a market share of IE or Firefox lots of improvements are needed.

Meesha
Meesha

Google may be seen as the new "Mr. Big" however I'm not sure how they can follow through on Tony's statement, "But what if Google makes it necessary?" forcing users to use Chrome. MS couldn't do it with IE and Apple couldn't with Safari; Mozilla just puts it out there with FF as do others in the browser stable. Google is and will be only just another option for now and the foreseeable future. As Tony has put out there, Chrome so far has nothing radically new to make "us" want to change. At this stage it's still anyone's browser game. And I don't know about you all but I like having a choice and not being "forced".

david.cuthill
david.cuthill

I use DotnetNuke 4.8.x portals and Chrome doesn't render the Richtext editor controls. Firefox and IE and Netscape do, but Opera doesn't. Generally: I found it not as fast as Opera, and it took ages to render my little Flash app business module. I liked the fuss-free user-interface.

lasaboy
lasaboy

Maybe a new prince in the wings, but he needs training yet, so not worth the effort for a while, but if they add a list of add-ons who knows

Ollie J
Ollie J

I use it for browsing my Yahoo mail account. YM is so Javascript heavy, Chrome makes it fly. Other than that, Firefox still gets my vote, probably because I am used to it more than anything.....inertia is powerful.

Elvis.Is.Alive
Elvis.Is.Alive

I've been using chrome since it first released. At first. I initially just wanted to see it, touch it, feel it. Now, I'm addicted. I've grown to crave the very clean interface, super fast loading time, javascript performance boost, separation of processes. As a previous IE fanboy, I actually now cringe when I HAVE to open IE7 for some specific app (like an ActiveX application). I really like Chrome, and I hope it continues to flourish. Man, I would hate to have to go back to either IE7 or Firefox now.....

noris.lee
noris.lee

As a web developer, it involves additional support and testing, if the browser gets a significant market share. It gives different flavor to suit different needs. One thing is if they can agree on a common standard, it will definitely help web users have a better experience. Noris MobileTechGuy http://www.mobiletechguy.com

Justin James
Justin James

I agree that Chrome has a nice looking interface. Unfortunately, the bugs and wide open security holes make it a non-starter for actual usage. If you are interested in seeing how it works, give it a shot. I beleive that (so far) the only features that may interest developers is Gears. I *beleive* that the HTML 5 "Web Workers" system *may* be in Chrome already, but again, without seeing that implemented in other browsers, who cares? A feature needs to have real market share penetration to be worth coding to it; the days of "this site best viewed with..." badges are GONE. Finally, for developers who are concerned as to what Chrome might make their page look like, they can use Safari to check that, since they both use the WebKit engine. J.Ja

Snak
Snak

I've had Chrome installed since it was released. I was impressed at first but now it's beginning to frustrate the heck out me. Why does it not execute Java properly? In a recent IM session with Dell, the text input area was greyed out and I could not participate, which frustrated both me and the Support Techie. A friend cannot understand why his clever menu system works well in IE and FF, but not in Chrome. Sigh - Chrome is pretty, but looks like its back to FF....

Cristian Nistor
Cristian Nistor

Anyway, the options are limited to few in Chrome. My opinion is that GC looks like Firefox but behaves like Safari. But I think improvements will arise in the near future. We have nothing else to do than wait and compare it.

aspatton
aspatton

Yes, the JavaScript performance is worth it for certain sites like Yahoo or even Gmail.

stempy
stempy

Yeah, I think chrome is great, it does the basics really well, and fast, intuitive and simple u.i. For Gmail, and Google Docs its much quicker than ff imo. Except for no addons, thats the one thing preventing me from ditching firefox for general browsing. (ff still for dev work tho) Syncing bookmarks across browsers is invaluable in firefox. Oh yeah and this is coming from using Avant Browser(IE based), Opera, Lynx, Netscape, IE etc.....Go Chome, It would be fantastic if they could implement some type of addon system.

bdappen
bdappen

In my experience so far Chrome requires very little additional support and testing. I have found some tiny css problems with it, but only in cases where there were already x-browser computability issues (i.e Safari) and some odd issues in javascript using execCommand and setRange, but again in these cases the scripts were not perfectly supported across browsers (and they are rarely used in public interfaces regardless). It's actually been nice because it's help me catch problems that were experienced in browsers that I hadn't tested against. One other note, however... I have not found that my AJAX scripts execute noticeably faster in Chrome vs. FF, which was one of the most exciting promises of the new browser (so I'm a little disappointed in that).

aspatton
aspatton

We've all been waiting on the common standard for years, but they can never agree.

mail
mail

I am happy with the google chrome interface.... but i think it has got some security holes in that.... I prefer to use firefox.....

aandruli
aandruli

I think the ease of use, the simplified toolbar, and the ability to block popup windows (which seems even stronger than Friefox with popup blocker extensions) would make it great for the casual user, but I did find it slows the network when "Googleupdate.exe" kicks in so it is close but not quite there yet for everyday use.

djl4fzw
djl4fzw

It sounds very Microsoft. MS creates MScentric features all the time.

techie.brandon
techie.brandon

I gave it a run, enjoyed the look, liked the speed-dial (you can exchange Google's term for Opera's if you like) but I don't see changing from my FF2.x to this until some 3rd party extensions can be used with it and added to the interface. I don't like having to navigate menus to get a feature I use all day everyday. The javascript console doesn't look to have a keyboard shortcut either, which if your doing heavy js on pages which you load a new browser each time becomes a headache. I'm a big fan of firebug, and though I wonder if the Safari version would work with Chrome, I doubt I'm going to take the time to find out when FF2.x is working so well for me. Also, it lacks a number of features I use daily from FF's web developer series of extensions (at least I haven't found them yet) such as web developer's event spy, which is incredibly useful on complex multi-layered webapps. I also enjoy being able to customize the look of my browser, Google's look is good but I would definitely like to tweak it to my personal tastes. I have added Chrome to the list of installed browsers, and will hope to see additions of the like mentioned to be added in future editions.

Roho
Roho

Even if Chrome does not succeed itself to become a really big player in the browser arena, it will still bring a lot to it: - it raises the bar on security and sandboxing of processes; - it raises the bar on JavaScript performance, even when Firefox might be ahead with their next release, the others are still trailing; - by implementing the WebKit rendering engine Google raises the WebKit share and that will help the acceptance of Safari and will urge web developers to test and build better webpages; - because Google is such a huge brand they have at least raised awareness amongst the "ordinary" users that there is a choice in browsers; - they bring a fresh view on the UI by using a minimalist design, aimed at only things you may need and not aimed at power users (Firefox) or a clumsy cluttered interface aimed to hide options (turning on the IE Developer Toolbar is a ridiculous number of clicks); So far I am impressed by the ease and performance of Chrome. I only switch back to Firefox for some extensions and IE only comes into play because there are so many people still using it and I need to test in that "thing" as well.

techrepublic@
techrepublic@

Google Chrome is a good start but it needs an extension system or it will ALWAYS be far behind Firefox and Opera.

jgenther
jgenther

The Incognito sessions are useful in some cases. I've also noticed that many sites don't take Safari, & now Chrome, into consideration for cross-browser compatibility. Many sites I go to don't display properly with Chrome. With IE7Pro IE is as useful as Firefox. So I only use Chrome for Google Apps and Zoho.

aspatton
aspatton

As a developer, I felt it necessary to take it for a test drive, but at the moment I don't see what it can offer over the IE alternatives Safari and FireFox.

tv_p
tv_p

Me too, I do not see what it can offer over the IE alternative FireFox and Safari. We can customize UI of IE/FF to look like Chrome, but needs few extra clicks. It's always good to follow windows standards while developing any windows application. Any application should run faster if configured (off-course coded) to do less functions like Removing Standard options of Title Bar, Toolbar and status bars etc.

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