Modern Software Experience

2008-12-13

Google Chrome

version 1.0

Google Chrome is no longer in Beta. Google Chrome is 1.0.

The announcement in The Official Google blog claims that the latest version is not just stabler and faster than the original release, but features a better bookmark manager and better privacy controls as well.

There was no 1.0 Beta. There was not even a 0.9 release. The Google Chrome version number just jumped from 0.4 Beta to 1.0 release. What the heck?

what the heck?

That is all dandy, but it does not begin to answer the first question I had when I read that announcement: what the heck?


The first public version of Google Chrome was released on 2008 Sep 2, slightly more than three months ago. Google Mail was released on 2004 Mar 21 and is a still sporting a beta label more than four years later, and Google Chrome loses its beta moniker in just a few months? What the heck?

There was no 1.0 Beta. There was not even a 0.9 release. The Google Chrome version number just jumped from 0.4 Beta to 1.0 release. What the heck?

official explanation

Google’s Sundar Pichai and Linus Upson write: We have removed the beta label as our goals for stability and performance have been met but our work is far from done..
Stability and performance are lofty goals, but not the only issues you should address while working towards a 1.0 release. There is the user interface. There is documentation. A good installer. The right defaults. There is so much that need to be up to snuff. Pichai and Upson makes it sounds as if stability and performance are the only things that matter. That makes me think they do not understand the first thing of either software development or user satisfaction.

They go on to admit that important and common browser features, such as form auto-fill, RSS support and a mechanism to support add-ons are still missing - yet have no qualms about slapping a 1.0 label on what should probably be labelled a 0.5 release.

The official blog post almost admits that it is version 0.5 with a 1.0 label slapped on it, and gives the thinnest possible excuse for doing so: stability and performance goals have been met.
Hm, the way Google announced Chrome in September sure created the impression that those goals had been met back then already

real reason

So it is hard to escape the impression that the real reasons for the 1.0 release have little to do with the quality of the current product. It sure seems a marketroid decision to me.

Perhaps some big OEMs informed Google that they were willing to preinstall Google Chrome on the millions of PCs they sell each year, but only after Google Chrome reaches full release. I’ve argued before that, although Google sure enjoys pushing rival Microsoft out, Google does not care much about Chrome market share, but does care about the default search engine a browser comes with.

Google Vice President Marissa Meyer practically admitted that getting Chrome preinstalled on OEM machines is the real reason in an interview with TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington.

Google is taking a huge gamble by slapping a 1.0 label on the current product. Marketing tactics like this can backfire in a big way.

installer

The installer has not improved. It is still one of those annoying installers that starts by downloading the program for real. How difficult is it to simply provide a link to the offline installer on the Chrome home page?

If you have come to hate the stupid GoogleUpdate process as much as I do, you will want to download the full offline installer, chrome_installer.exe. That is just the browser, without the annoying GoogleUpdate process.

Google still uses a link on one of the setup dialog boxes that you are likely to miss. I criticised it when Chrome first came out. It seems a violation of good user interface principles to me, yet it is still there.

It should be a button instead of link. No, it should just be a dialog in the setup wizard. So why is it still a link? Could it be because it Google wants you to overlook it, because the dialog it brings up has the checkbox that makes Chrome your default browser?

language

The Google Chrome web site still refers to English as English (UK) and to Amglish as English. That is so culturally insensitive.

I selected English, but when I downloaded and installed Chrome, I got a Dutch user interface. That is just wrong. It does not matter that I am using a Dutch ISP, what matters is that I am running an English copy of Windows and that I selected English before downloading Chrome - why make me select a locale when you are going to ignore my choice anyway?

The install program should respect my Windows settings. The system locale is English. The user locale is English. So just where does Google’s installer get the idea that it should be using Dutch?

You can change the user interface language from within Chrome, but it is not immediately obvious how, certainly not if you have never used Chrome before…

Chrome menus

Many programs have icons next to menu items. Google Chrome uses icons instead of text for its top-level menu.

There are two top-level menus, and the icons for these two are a paper document and a wrench respectively. The Document menu combines menu options that are normally found a File and Edit menu. The Wrench menu combines menu options that are usually found on a Tools, Options or Setting menu with the most basic option of the Help menu: Help and About.

Changing the user interface language

To change the user interface language

  1. Choose the Wrench menu
  2. Choose the Options menu item to bring up the Options dialog box
  3. Select the Minor Tweaks tab
  4. Choose the Change font and language settings button to bring up the Fonts and Languages dialog box
  5. Select the Languages tab
  6. Choose the language you want from the Google Chrome language pull-down menu
  7. Click OK to confirm that you understand that the desired change will only take effect after you have restarted Chrome
  8. You will probably want to change the spelling checker as well by choosing one from the Spell-checker language pull-down menu.
  9. Choose OK to leave the Fonts and Languages dialog box
  10. Choose Close to leave the Options dialog box
  11. Close Google Chrome
  12. Restart Google Chrome

A dozen actions, including a mandatory close and restarting of the browser. That is a pretty lousy interface, especially when I only need to make the change because Google’s installer got it wrong in the first place.

A language menu item on the menu would be a lot easier, but the Google Chrome team seems determined to minimise the immediately visible menu, even when it hurts usability.

missing features

I already mentioned the lack of as form auto-fill, RSS support and a mechanism to support add-ons. The install program isn’t too hot and those who get the browser preloaded are not likely to be enthusiastic about GoogleUpdate. The user interface does not conform to Windows user interface guidelines or user expectations, and there is no Windows help file. Even simple features like print preview are still missing from this "1.0" browser.

help

It is not unreasonable to offer browser help in a web format, and web pages are of course a very practical approach for a multi-platform browser, but a basic level of help needs to be local. For that local help, the native help file format is preferred, but the bigger issue with Google Chrome is that there is no local help at all. As soon as you select help, Chrome goes out to the web.
How you are supposed to get help with basics (such as the deeply language menu) or connection problems is not clear.

privacy controls

Google may have improved the privacy controls, but that does not mean it improvised your privacy. The improvement is that the controls are now placed and there are explanations for each option. Nothing really changed.

Practically all the privacy-impacting choices that should be off by default are still on by default. Wrong defaults for privacy settings makes it hard to recommend Google Chrome to anyone.

Google should evolve Chrome to support the same add-on mechanism as Firefox does.

Firefox add-ons

To me, and doubtless many others, the biggest issue of all is the lack of add-ons, more specifically the Firefox add-ons I have come to depend on. Google should evolve Chrome to support the same add-on mechanism as Firefox does.

I sure care about speed and stability, and I am not happy that I have to restart Firefox once in a while, but Firefox is more than fast enough already. The functionality of the add-ons is simply more important to me than a small difference in speed in and I will even suffer a bit of instability for it.

I want my add-ons. I do not care much whether Google integrates the functionality of may favourite add-ons into Chrome or decides to support Firefox add-ons, but supporting Firefox add-ons would be the fastest way to support everyone’s favourite add-ons.

Google has got this Beta thing backwards.

overall impression

Google Chrome version 0.5 1.0 lacks version 1.0 quality.

Google hides the offline installer, and still install GoogleUpdate without even a warning. The installer does not work right, and Chrome user interface could still use some polish. Google Chrome still lacks basic features and is not ready for prime time yet.

Google has got this Beta thing backwards. Google Mail is production software with a Beta label, and Google Chrome is Beta software presented as production software.

update 2008-12-13: Google Pack

Although I predicted it in Google Chrome First Look, I still I missed an important change; the Google Pack now includes Chrome instead of Firefox. You can still choose Firefox, you can even opt for both, it is just a matter of ticking the checkboxes, but the default now is to include Chrome and not include Firefox.

update 2008-12-18: Google Earth

Google has started to promote Google Chrome through Google Earth; the Google Earth download page now defaults to downloading and installing Google Chrome with Google Earth.

update 2008-12-19: Google Mail

Google has started to advise users accessing Google Mail with Internet Explorer 7 to Get faster Google Mail. Those who follow the link are presented with a page that recommends the user to upgrade to either Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome, with only a brief note that a faster version of Internet Explorer, version 8, is available as a beta.

links

Google Chrome

Google Chrome version 1.0

pushing Chrome