Why Google Chrome is the next giant leap in browsers
21 March, 2009 § 4 Comments
And why all competitors have had to change their game plan because of it
Google Chrome was released as a beta in September 2008. Since then, the development and quick releases have outpaced any other browser on the market. As with most Google products there is a very high level of quality, yet it seems that with this product Google has put immense resources behind it compared to other products. Below are some of the reasons why I believe that Google Chrome is the next giant leap in browsers.
1. Speed. Before Mozilla Firefox, my browser of choice lied with Opera. I had used Netscape Navigator, then Internet Explorer, and then moved to Opera for tabs and what is percieved as a faster, leaner, browser. At the time that Firefox was released, I was developing websites and was happy to see standards being followed along with a fast browser. As time went on though, it seemed that Firefox started to lose some of it’s speed. It is still much faster than IE7 (I haven’t had a chance to really compare it to the final version of IE8 that was just released). Add-ons in Firefox appear to be what slows it down for me, so I’ve uninstalled almost all add-ons and disabled others, but now that I’ve been using Chrome as my default browser for about 7 months, Firefox just feels slow. Here are some reasons why I think Chrome is faster. Some of these reasons are percieved speed, while others are simply faster:
- Tab creation: The actual increase in speed here may be negligible, yet when you open a tab there are a fewe simple, yet nice, usability improvements. Focus is given to the omnibar of the new tab. There is animation of a tab being created. The default page that is loaded is optimized for quick loading, just take a look at the comments in the source of the file:
This page is optimized for perceived performance. Our enemies are the time taken for the backend to generate our data, and the time taken to parse and render the starting HTML/CSS content of the page. This page is designed to let Chrome do both of those things in parallel.
1. Defines temporary content callback functions
2. Fires off requests for content (these can come back 20-150ms later)
3. Defines basic functions (handlers)
4. Renders a fast-parse hard-coded version of itself (this can take 20-50ms)
5. Defines the full content-rendering functionsIf the requests for content come back before the content-rendering functions are defined, the data is held until those functions are defined.
- Combination of the search box and address bar. Using Firefox, you must tab once from the address bar to get to the search box. With Internet Explorer, you must tab twice to get to the search box from the address bar. In Google Chrome, you can run your search right from the address bar (aka omnibar).
2. Minimality. As browsers have grown up, more clutter has been added to the UI. It is common to see users with two toolbars, a file menu, navigation area and status bar. At the same time, websites have long moved away from 640×480, and they are now moving away from 1024×768 resolutions. Websites are trying to fit more information above the fold. After all, the reason a user opens up a web browser isn’t to see a logo from Ask Jeeves!, Yahoo!, Google, or some other company that wants to brand every peice of browser real estate space they can get their hands on. Google Chrome has the most minimal UI that I have seen in a web browser, and the browser is smart about the UI to allow for a rich and deep UI and still be able to cover up when it’s not needed. Take these examples:
- Toolbars (or lack thereof). You won’t find any toolbars in Google Chrome. At the top of the UI is a tab bar, and right underneath is the address bar. On the far right you will find two buttons: a page button and a tool button. The page button has all of your options for controlling the current page and the tool button has browser specific options.
- Find in text. Pressing Ctrl+F on Internet Explorer brings up a dialog for searching within the text of a page. This dialog is clumsy and obscures the page that you are searching. Pressing Ctrl+F on Firefox creates a new toobar at the bottom of the page used for searching within the text. This toolbar doesn’t obscure any of the page content, yet it uses up the whole width of the screen. The textbox does not consume the width of the screen, which it probably shouldn’t, so now there is wasted space. The Google Chrome find pops out from under the address bar in a control that is probably only 150 pixels wide, searches within your text, and by default highlights all occurances of the results. When you leave the search, the search box leaves.
- Lack of status bar. There is no status bar in Google Chrome. This is the bar that you are used to seeing in other browsers at the bottom of the window that shows you what address the link you are about to click on will take you. Chrome’s replacement: a status bar that slides in and out to show the address. Even this animation is smart. If a link is at the bottom of the page fold and you hover over it, the animation will not cover the cursor. (On another note, this also could be considered a bug since the user can’t see where the link is going if this status won’t show. Perhaps the status bar should move to the right side of the screen in these scenarios so the user can still see where a link is going.)
3. Crash control. Each tab in Google Chrome runs in a separate process, so if one tab crashes it doesn’t affect the other tabs. If a plugin crashes, like Flash, only that plugin will display a sad face but the rest of the page will continue to work. If the whole app crashes, which I have seen a couple times since I’ve been on the development channel, Chrome will ask if you want to restart it and it will offer to load up all the tabs it had right before. Firefox is able to do this last feature, but I haven’t seen any browser other than Chrome that can do the first two features. Also, the level of detail within the dialogs that appear from crashes add a little humility to the product. When a page is unresponse (becomes frozen), a little sad page graphic is shown with snowflakes, scarf, and chattering teeth.
4. Animation. As people have seen and learned from Apple products such as the iPhone, animation is a big draw for users. Animations make context switches less painful for users. Here are some of the animations within Google Chrome that make life easier and more predictable for users:
- Moving a tab from one place to another on the tab bar.
- Dragging a tab outside of the application causes a screenshot of the current page to be created and rendered with a medium opacity that shows that you are now bringing this tab outside of the main window. Releasing this will create a new window for that tab.
- Dragging a tab outside of the main window and near the edge of the screen will show docking icons. This is really useful for multiple monitor setups and also useful if you want to have two tabs side by side on the same display.