Google seems intent on following the same path to world domination as the previous heavyweight champ – Microsoft – by releasing a “better browser” of their own. Known as Google Chrome, its chief innovation seems to be putting the tabs on top of the address bar. Quite frankly, it will take more than that to wean the Dowbrigade from Firefox 3.1 (OK, it isn’t quite installed yet).
We have been using this browser, in one form or another, since installing Netscape 1.0 over Christmas vacation in 1994. Before that we used Mosaic, and since then we have tried, among others, Opera, iCab, Thunderbird, Camino, Safari, and about a million versions of Internet Explorer. But we keep coming back to Netscape/Firefox.
Our current version is tuned up and tricked out, and does everything but tell us tomorrow’s lottery number. Of course, Chrome doesn’t have to be better than Firefox to be a success, just better than IE7, a ridiculously low benchmark. Undoubtedly it will engage seamlessly with the rest of the Google universe, but we see problems with endowing any human-directed entity with that kind of omnipotence. We already use Google’s search, tabbed homepage, map service, calendar, photo service, email, reminder service and image search. They have most of our email and photos and some of our documents and medical records. Are they satisfied? Noooo, they want more. They want it all.
Power corrupts, etc. and it’s only a matter of time until Google morphs into the latest incarnation of the evil empire. We know that the corporate climate at Google is “different”. The road to hell is paved in good intentions.
* Google Chrome is Google’s open source browser project. As rumored before under the name of “Google Browser”, this will be based on the existing rendering engine Webkit. Furthermore, it will include Google’s Gears project.
* Google Chrome will use special tabs. Instead of traditional tabs like those seen in Firefox, Chrome puts the tab buttons on the upper side of the window, not below the address bar.
* The browser has an address bar with auto-completion features. Called ‘omnibox’, Google says it offers search suggestions, top pages you’ve visited, pages you didn’t visit but which are popular amd more. The omnibox (“omni” is a prefix meaning “all”, as in “omniscient” – “all-knowing”) also lets you enter e.g. “digital camera” if the title of the page you visited was “Canon Digital Camera”. Additionally, the omnibox lets you search a website of which it captured the search box; you need to type the site’s name into the address bar, like “amazon”, and then hit the tab key and enter your search keywords.
* As a default homepage Chrome presents you with a kind of “speed dial” feature, similar to the one of Opera. On that page you will see your most visited webpages as 9 screenshot thumbnails. To the side, you will also see a couple of your recent searches and your recently bookmarked pages, as well as recently closed tabs.
* Chrome has a privacy mode; Google says you can create an “incognito” window “and nothing that occurs in that window is ever logged on your computer.” The latest version of Internet Explorer calls this InPrivate. Google’s use-case for when you might want to use the “incognito” feature is e.g. to keep a surprise gift a secret. As far as Microsoft’s InPrivate mode is concerned, people also speculated it was a “porn mode.”
* Web apps can be launched in their own browser window without address bar and toolbar. Mozilla has a project called Prism that aims to do similar (though doing so may train users into accepting non-URL windows as safe or into ignoring the URL, which could increase the effectiveness of phishing attacks).
* To fight malware and phishing attempts, Chrome is constantly downloading lists of harmful sites. Google also promises that whatever runs in a tab is sandboxed so that it won’t affect your machine and can be safely closed. Plugins the user installed may escape this security model, Google admits.