Sep 032008

I’m sure this is probably the most written about topic on the internet in the last few hours, but I just wanted to add my thoughts on Google’s new web browser, Google Chrome, into the fray.

Google is really going head-to-head with Microsoft with this one, competing directly with one of Microsoft’s strongest and most established products outside of Windows and Office – Internet Explorer. A bold move indeed and an exciting one for users.

Having diligently read their product teaser – which is presented in a novel comic-strip format, I was almost foaming at the mouth. A brand new browser, one that would be:
1) Massively compatible (even trusty Opera or Firefox can’t load everything) due to large-scale automated testing on the unimaginably large Google web-page database,
2) Open source, so they can’t shove any nasty spyware or adware into the browser without anyone knowing, and;
3) Best of all, fast when it comes to actually loading web pages

And of course, based on the screenshots, packaged up with a beautifully clean, highly stylised, well thought out user interface, something that we’ve come to expect from our benevolent internet juggernaut.

I had read all this/seen the screenshots before it had been launched, but of course the proof is in the pudding. Now, it has been released, so I can try it for myself.

First impressions
A very small installer – less than a megabyte in fact. Or so it seems. In fact, in order to install the beta version, you have to download and run a web-based installer which proceeds to invisibly download some much larger file. I was a bit disappointed with this, but its open source, so if someone wants to change the software (and produce a competing package with a more straightforward, user-downloadable installer) they can.
The installation itself is pretty straight forward – a few simple questions on importing IE favourites etc, and whether you would like desktop shortcuts and it’s done.

First run
On first run, it works. Pretty well in fact. So, I decide to put it through its paces a bit. I do my usual Opera trick of logging into 3 social networking sites at once, and opening about 10-15 picture-laden windows. I try the tricky ‘accept invitation’ popups in Facebook (that Opera really struggles with). I view slideshows. So far so good. Layouts are sensible; everything seems to be rendered appropriately. Although having said that, things do seem to be slowing down a little – a couple of pages aren’t loading as fast as I’d expect out of Opera.

The optimisations described in the Google Chrome comic-strip are focused on the processing of JavaScript, the structure of processes etc – i.e. client-side optimisations. Opera, in addition to client-side speed, has been very focused on network optimisations, i.e. using multiple connections to a single web server to load pages faster. It would seem to me (based only on guesswork) that Chrome has neglected that side of things somewhat so far. It’s not super slow; it’s just not quite what I’d hoped for.

The interface really is as delightful as it looks (and as everything Google seems to be – Google Mail lets the side down a little, but we can forgive that). Everything in Chrome makes sense, is very clear and intuitive, and best of all, very clean.

Ok, so let’s try something else. I open a video on Facebook. The first time, it more or less fails to load (some jerky sound, a couple of frames, then a big long wait with nothing happening before the final frame and the movie is done). When I try again, it starts to play, but then the whole browser (not just the tab – oh no!) grinds to a halt. Some window pops up that looks like it’s trying to emulate Windows’ ‘Task Manager’ role, but it only half pops up, and I can’t even read the message. Then after a few seconds it disappears again. After a couple of repeats of this first pop-up, things get really slow, and up pops another window telling me that Adobe Flash 9 isn’t working, and asking me if I’d like to kill the script that’s trying to use it. When I do, things unfreeze, and we’re back. Well, almost. I can now switch between tabs at least, but the browser still is responding very slowly and is not really usable.

My thoughts
Disappointing – looks like there are two areas that need some work. The first is network performance, which appears to be so-so. It could also be local performance to an extent – what is potentially very concerning is the possibility that the use of a sandboxed architecture, while clearly a better idea for security, is slowing things down. If this is the case, fixing it won’t be an easy task.

The second is plug-in compatibility. Plug-in compatibility with a plug-in as mainstream as Adobe Flash should really be thoroughly tested and carefully optimised (as JavaScript has been). It’s not an open (and maybe not even a nice) format, but it is certainly a de-facto standard.

Thinking about it, it turns out that what’s really important to me is speed, both of the browser’s local processing and network requests, and compatibility with most pages. Things like security interface etc unfortunately come a distant second it appears (I academically understand their importance, but I want it to work and I want it to work fast!). And with the speed not really up to scratch, and the plug-in support letting down compatibility, there is certainly some ground for Google’s Chrome to cover.

Overall not a bad first experience – and it’s a beta version, so plenty of time to improve – but a bit disappointing. Putting it another way – I was hoping that Chrome would be my new favourite browser, but after Chrome’s struggles with Flash, I’m back to posting this from good old Opera.

Jul 242008

A few videos from Johny’s stag party, for your viewing pleasure

When it finishes click more to see more, and let it run – it should go through at least 3 slightly different angles of Johny’s Macarena dance, as well as George’s ‘Welcome to the stag do’ video