Chrome really is nearly there!

chrome_logoYesterday I realised Chrome is going to be successful.

Chrome is Google’s web browser. It first appeared just over a year ago. For much of that period I’ve been pretty lukewarm about it. Thought it was more of a symbolic gesture than a serious attempt at muscling in on the browser market.

To a technical person, Chrome had been positioned as nothing so special. The items that stick in my mind are very fast Javascript and better memory utilisation. Also more granular at the process level: one process per tab, or some such concept. Nice sounding. But with Firefox boasting of the new TraceMonikey Javascript engine, and Microsoft doing reasonable work on IE8, I reckoned it was not sounding like anything too unusual.

And on the negative side, one thing that makes a seasoned Firefox user go “Ugh!”. Initially at least, no framework for extensions. Extensions are what make Firefox so very special. Yes, IE has them too, but the functionality that can be added to Firefox is amazing. Ad blocking, Javascript protection, bookmark synchronisation, CSS debugging – the list is vast.

So early playing with Chrome didn’t come even close to making me use it permanently.�But how things change. Chrome is nearly there. There are now excellent Linux versions (including 64-bit). The Linux version lags the Windows stream a little in functionality, but that’s life. That Chrome Javascript engine really is very very fast. Forget benchmarks: one web-site I use a lot every day, which is very Javascript-heavy, is visibly much faster. Some irritating glitches Firefox gave me with the Javascript of another site have gone. Extensions? The framework is nearly there, and I predict a flood of extensions soon (probably very many ported across from Firefox) I have a Gmail notifier running already. Slightly crude, but the point is that it’s now possible. Bookmark sync is now offered on the Windows developer version. Bookmarks get sync’ed to one’s Google Docs account. XMarks are currently launching a beta of their superb bookmark syncer for Chrome.

Lastly, the memory usage of Chrome is indeed vastly better than Firefox. My Firefox (on multiple platforms) has some of those not-yet-for-Chrome extensions running which of course themselves use up memory, but for a long time now I, like others, have been getting very irritated by Firefox’s memory usage. Some call them simply memory leaks. Others refute that, and defend its memory usage. Bug or feature, no matter: Firefox consumes a hell of a lot of memory on both Windows and Linux. As a rough guide, so far the alpha builds of Chrome (alpha, remember – so a very very long way from optimised) use only about 30-40% of the memory used by Firefox, for me anyway. That’s a big difference.

So on the technical front things are looking like Chrome can almost match Firefox. A few months away, but definitely within sight. But the real revelation is the experience of using Chrome. This will sound a bit wishy-washy and intangible (and as an engineer I hate that…) but it’s hard to put a finger on. You know when you use something and you suddenly realise “Hey, this feels very right?” Well, that’s how Chrome is seeming to me. It really does have an excellent “feel” to it. I’m sure a GUI expert could quantify that and put it in words. But I do suggest taking it for a spin.

Current Chrome usage runs, apparently, at a tiny fraction of a percent internet-wide. Within 12-18 months, however, I predict great things for it. Here’s a bold prediction: within that time-frame Chrome will seriously rival Firefox as a browser. Just you see…

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