Justin Carter's madfellas.com

Google Chrome: The best bits from each browser?

Preface: This post is a few weeks old now because I didn't get a chance to post it at the time of writing... I think I was on a bus somewhere between Paris, France and Berne, Switzerland :) However, given almost a month with Chrome, my thoughts are still entirely relevant.

Google Chrome is an interesting offering in the world of browsers and it has landed at a time where a lot of things are happening. The IE8 Beta 2 is out and is shaping up reasonably well, Mozilla have announced good performance gains with TraceMonkey, and Opera 9.5 is a really solid product which deserves much more praise than it gets.

So, what has Google Chrome given us? After just a few hours using it (over a few days) I was surprised to find that it has most of my favourite features from the other browsers all rolled in to one. I'd almost go so far as to say it doesn't have any truly unique features, but at this stage of the game it doesn't need to. Some of those features include;

No menu bar (IE7)

IE7 was released with the menu bar hidden by default. I much prefer it this way and Chrome actually has no menu bar at all, whereas in IE7 it's just hidden until you hit the Alt key. Side note: personally I wish you could hide the menu bar in all Windows applications until you hit the Alt key :)

Tabs on top (Opera)

I didn't like tabs on top to begin with in Opera but I eventually got used to it. However it's much more pleasant on the eyes in Chrome because there is no menu bar adding clutter at the top, so the tabs are truly at the top edge of the window (or at the top of the screen if you browse with a maximised window). It actually makes sense this way.

No search box needed (IE / Opera)

To me the search box was always a piece of wasted space in the browser UI because I was accustomed to the search fallback that older versions of IE used when you typed an address that couldn't be found. Chrome seems to only support one active search provider at a time, inline with most other browsers. However, to date I still think Opera has the best search implementation via it's address bar. You can search directly from the address bar using single character prefixes; "g <keywords>" will do a Google search, "w <keywords>" will do a Wikipedia search, and "z <keywords>" will do an Amazon search; and of course you can add your own shortcuts for other search engines as well.

New tab page - Speed Dial (Opera)

The speed dial in Opera is great. No more fumbling for bookmarks in a shortcut bar or favourites list, because you can choose your favourite 9 sites to show up as nice big screenshot links for quick and easy browsing. Chrome has one up on Opera here because the screenshots on the New tab page are of your most visited sites and so they can change dynamically, however I think it would be ideal to also be able to pin screenshots to the page so that they are always visible, and to be able to remove screenshots from the page in cases where you might view a site often but never want to navigate to it directly (think opening links from a search engine or RSS feed, etc).

New tab page - Recently Closed Tabs (IE8 Beta 2)

Microsoft just beat Google to the line with this one, but having a list of Recently Closed Tabs on the New tab page has come in handy a few times. This, coupled with the screenshot links to your most visited sites makes the Chrome new tab page nice to work with.

Address bar domain name highlighting (IE8)

It's a tiny feature but can make a big difference in quickly spotting a phishing web site. Kudos to Google for catching on so quick.

Each tab in it's own process (IE8 Beta 2)

Again, Microsoft only beat Google to the line with this one by a couple of weeks - and incidentally this is one of Google's biggest features that they were pushing for the launch - but having each tab run in it's own process is definitely the way to go. I haven't had a tab crash in Chrome yet so I'm not sure what to expect (I've only had pages that render incorrectly or render blank), but in IE8 Beta 2 I've had tabs crash a number of times (I'm looking at you, Flash!) and it is sooo refreshing to have the browser say "This tab has stopped working, but now I'm going to reload it for you", while everything else continues to work perfectly. If Chrome gives me that same feeling I'll be happy, like everyone else who has ever had a browser crash :)

It will be interesting to see how far Google take the developer features of Chrome. Obviously no web developer can live without a tool like the Firebug extension for Firefox, and while Opera is trying hard with Dragonfly and Microsoft are giving it a go in the IE8 betas they still aren't quite up to par. I wonder if Google can surprise us?...

Opera Mobile 9.51 Beta 1 released

It has been a long time coming, but Opera Mobile 9.5 (beta) is available for download. It has been delayed a couple of times and saw a version bump from 9.0 to 9.5 to bring it into line with Opera 9.5 for desktops. It made it's first appearance on the HTC Touch Diamond (with support for the built-in accelerometer for screen rotation) and now is generally available for all touch-screen WM5/WM6 devices, with support for other mobile devices and operating systems to follow soon.

The browser itself is very slick and very full featured. It supports;

  • tabbed browsing (max 3 tabs at a time)
  • overview / adaptive zooming with extra zoom-in and zoom-out options in the context menu and configurable zoom settings (enter opera:config in the address bar)
  • intelligent text wrapping to avoid horizontal scrolling while reading
  • auto-complete list of previously visited sites when typing in an address
  • copy and paste mode and a Save image option
  • saved pages for viewing offline
  • "find in page" searching 
  • bookmark synchronisation between mobile and desktop using Opera Links
  • and a whole lot more...

Opera Mobile 9.5 is also powerful enough to use the "advanced" version of Gmail and applications built with the ExtJS library, which I think is pretty outstanding :) It is also supposed to be using the same engine as the desktop version of Opera with the same support for (X)HTML and CSS standards (though they note that this beta version doesn't currently pass the Acid 2 test). It will be interesting to see some JavaScript benchmarks, both now while it's in beta and after it's final release.

Here's a pic of Gmail on my phone in the zoomed-out overview mode:


Good times ahead for mobile browsing!

Opera Mini 4 vs iPhone

This one is classic :) The Opera Mini 4 beta was recently released and Opera have a great Apple / iPhone spoof commercial to go with it. Enjoy! It's shaping up to be a great browser for all Java capable phones (that's a LOT, including Windows Mobile devices that have JVM's installed), and Opera have also annouced Opera Mobile 9 for Windows Mobile which will run natively instead of in a JVM. There is an official demo on the Opera Mini site, along with 10 reasons to love Opera Mini 4 and an online simulator as well! If that isn't information overload then there are also a couple of reviews that are worthwhile reading at ZDNet and Opera Watch. Go Opera go! :D