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?...

Test IE6 in Vista with IETester

This one came across my Inbox last week and I didn't get around to blogging it until now. The folks that make the DebugBar (free for private use only) and Companion.JS (free) addons for Internet Explorer have released a new (also free) tool called IETester. It works in both Windows XP and Windows Vista when you have IE7 installed as the default browser and allows you to test in IE5.5 and IE6 (I'm not sure if IE8 Beta 1 has any negative effects on it though). It's only an alpha release but from the quick testing I've done it seems to work quite well. The only immediate issue I had was that it assumed Flash support was available but it was unable to render Flash content on any of the sites I tried. So if you aren't a fan of running a virtual machine all day long this could be a promising option :)

Internet Explorer 8 Beta 1 available!

Internet Explorer 8 Beta 1 was just announced at MIX08 and the IEBlog has the lowdown on the improvements they have concentrated on for this release, including full CSS 2.1 support, better scripting performance, the beginnings of HTML5 support, built-in developer tools, automatic crash recovery, and a new feature called "WebSlices" (this is similar to something that I've always wanted to hack up into a Vista Sidebar gadget!) Download it now while it's hot :) Internet Explorer 8 Beta: Home Page