John Brandon

Review: Chrome is Google 2.0

By John Brandon
September 03, 2008 9:37 AM EDT

The Google Chrome beta is a powerful new browser that loads Web pages quickly and accurately. As some bloggers have noted, it's not perfect and can break sites (for example, by using alt tags). CNET says Chrome is faster than all other browsers, and my experience matches these claims. It reveals that Google intends to break a Microsoft stranglehold on the desktop, but the user experience on Chrome feels a bit like walking on a sheet of ice in your slippers: a bit temporal and shaky.

I don't think Google defines "beta" the same way every other company does. To them, beta means a relatively stable app that has all or most of the core features in place. If Adobe defined the word beta this way, they would be out of business by now - to them, a beta means "crash happy" early test.

Chrome has not crashed on me at all. What it has done is make me want to switch back to Firefox to do some "real" work. I can't really explain why. I don't like the tabs being above the address bar because it feels like they are floating in space. Other things bug me, too. I can drag-and-drop a URL onto the "bookmark bar" but I can't click and hold on the Gmail icon and drag it there, like you can with Firefox. The icon for Chrome looks too much like the one for Google Desktop and not that distinct. I like having a separate search box, and having just one for URLs and search is jarring.

With just a handful of desktop-bound apps including Sidebar and Desktop Search, Google has never strayed too far from the online world where they make most of their money by selling ads. Chrome, released around midday Tuesday, could be their last official desktop app. It points to a day when the operating system is obfuscated by the browser, which runs all the apps you really need. So will Chrome make a dent in Microsoft's market share or scare away the nice folks at Mozilla?

I think it's too soon to know whether Chrome will be a success. It could be one of the most glorious burn-outs in tech where we look back on 2008 and say - that's when Google tried in vain to capture the browser market. But Google has a history of stomping the competition even though the service (see Gmail as an example) does not offer nearly as many features (see Yahoo Mail).

Here's why Chrome probably won't just fade away. For starters, it lets you grab tabs and drop them away from the main browser window. They run as a separate app that uses a separate portion of RAM. You can also create a shortcut to an app using a menu option and then run it without the address bar. It looks amazingly extensible and flexible, which means it could have a bright future.

Chrome is a first glimpse at Google 2.0, an effort to make cloud computing ubiquitous and the desktop a thing of the past. For anyone who has wondered whether Google will release an operating system, the short answer is: yes, they just did.

And here's the proof. When you install Chrome, it asks you if you want to use Google as the search engine. You might think, well - of course! But what Google is saying with that question is: we intend to own the Web, and when we do, we don't want to get sued for monopolistic practices. Wow.


Google Chrome Browser

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