Evaluating Google Chrome on the Mac

Vincent Danen compares Chrome, Safari, and Firefox for use on the Mac. What makes a browser come out on top? Extensions and security are deciding factors.

The browser wars are back, and this time Google is making it interesting. Google Chrome is a new addition to the browser world, but it is based on the same rendering engine as Safari: WebKit. This is a good thing, because WebKit is open source, so the advancements that Google makes will get folded back into Safari and other WebKit-based browsers. This includes bug fixes, security fixes, and other enhancements to the WebKit engine.

But is Google Chrome itself any better than Firefox or Safari? Safari is the mainstay of the OS X browsers, and Firefox is extremely popular. So does Google Chrome have anything over the others that make it better?

One thing that many people mention when talking about Chrome is how fast it is. Most of the benchmarks, however, indicate that it is marginally faster than Safari in HTML rendering (both use WebKit after all), but is much, much faster when processing JavaScript -- at least compared to Safari 4. With Safari 5, the two are much closer indeed. JavaScript is a core component of a lot of web sites, but I often wonder how much difference it makes in real world usage rather than simple statistical numbers.

In the end, it's user preference that will win the day. Speed helps, absolutely, but with the proliferation of broadband and high speed internet, speed isn't necessarily the deciding factor.


Until Safari 5, Apple had missed the boat with the extensions, and even now we have to wait a few months before they are officially ready for consumption. Firefox has extensions, and so does Chrome. These extensions really allow a user to customize their experience and make the browser their own, such as Greasemonkey for Firefox. While there is no Greasemonkey for Chrome, there are thousands of extensions that are also easy to install and manage.

Tops on security

What I also appreciate about Chrome is the emphasis on security. These guys really take security seriously, and with the browser being the portal to your entire computer, security in a browser is a very important thing. The sandboxing used in Chrome is great: the renderer runs in its own space and is protected from the browser kernel, using a privilege separation concept to ensure there is no overlap. This means that if there is a security problem in the rendering engine, because the renderer has no access to user files, the vulnerability cannot be used to gain privileges to files outside of the browser space. A number of other security enhancements exist: XSS (cross-site scripting) protection, clickjacking protection, CSRF (cross-site request forgery) protection, and more.

From the security stand-point alone, Google Chrome is an interesting browser to keep an eye on. With so much done using browsers, enhanced security is important or the browser ends up becoming a revolving door: it allows us access to the world, but can also allow the world access to our system.

I hope that other browsers take a look at the security enhancements that Google is implementing with Chrome. Any extra protection that can be taken is a step that should be taken. I know most browser vendors take security seriously in a reactive sense, but it sure would be nice to know that more of them are taking it seriously from the beginning. Unfortunately, Safari 5's recent release has focused on speed and extensions, but there were no significant gains in security, meaning that Google Chrome still has the lead.

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