Modern Software Experience

2008-09-05

Google Chrome

comical

On 2008 Sep 02, at 18h00m UTC, Google introduced Google Chrome, Google’s open source browser. The news leaked yesterday, through a comic book drawn by Scott McCloud. Google hired Scott McCloud to create a comic book, and a few copies were sent out early. Google has confirmed the introduction through the Official Google Blog and put the comic online at Google Books.

Beta

Many media were so eager to report the release of Google Chrome and comment upon it, that they forget to mention one rather important detail. This initial release is a Beta release. It does not carry a version 1.0 number. Its about box tells me this first Beta is version 0.2149.27. A low version number and a Beta moniker are two ways to let you know that this software is not finished yet.

search page

It gives Google lots of weasel room in case something does not work right. You should not make Google Chrome your default browser until Google commits to a version 1.0 release. The current release is a Beta for you to play with. It is not aimed a the average user, but at the technically interested one, so it is bit weird to see Google include a "Download Chrome (BETA)" on their search page.

Google pushing Chrome through its search page is wrong. This browser is not ready for prime time. Google shows serious disregard for the common user by doing this.

real Beta

You may have gotten jaded by the all the "Web 2.0" services that sport a Beta moniker as some hip extension of their product name, but this Beta moniker is the real thing. As Google’s own announcement readily admits, Google Chrome is far from done.

operating systems

Google intends to make Google Chrome available for MacOS and Linux, but right now, it is only available for Windows.

download

When the download became available, the Chrome site greeted me in Dutch, complete with a translation mistake native speakers are unlikely to make (note to Google: Typ tekst should be Type tekst.).

When I switched to English I encountered a more serious user interface mistake; Google labels Amglish as English and English as English (UK). Labelling the language instead of the dialect is not going to win Google any friends in the English-speaking world.

license

You need to accept Google’s Terms of Service before you can download the software. Anticipating that you will not read it anyway, Google has already scrolled the text to the end, where it notes that the term are governed by English law, and I cannot help but wonder whether that is Google-speak for American law...

The more interesting bit is in the first few lines of the license: These Terms of Service apply to the executable code version of Google Chrome. Source code for Google Chrome is available free of charge under open source software licence agreements at http://code.google.com/chromium/terms.html.

Update: Turns out that I should have read on anyway, as Google practically claimed ownership of everything you view in Chrome. Google has adjusted the license.

Open Source

Chrome is an Open Source browser. You can download the source and compile it yourself, and when you do, Google Chrome’s license does not apply. Chromium is available under a BSD license.

The Open Source project is known as Chromium. Google Chrome is the Google-branded and Google-licensed variant of Chromium.

installation

download

The download is less than half a megabyte. It isn’t a real setup, but one of those annoying vendor-specific download programs.

It downloads the real setup program into a directory under %APPDATA%\Google. You can use that as your offline installer, but Google should provide an official off-line installer, one that works without a vendor-specific download program.

A direct link to the offline installer is provide below. An important advantage of that installer is that it does not install the immensely annoying GoogleUpdate process.

setup

The setup defaults to importing your settings from already installed browsers. I have all major browsers installed and it defaulted to importing from Internet Explorer.

The dialog that lets you configure whether you want to import anything at all does not feature any checkbox or button, just a link. That deviation from the normal Windows user interface was enough for me to hardly notice it, and just click "Start Google Chrome" to continue with the setup. By the time I noticed my mistake and cancelled the import, MSN Search was already Chrome’s default search engine.
Thus, Google’s user-interface mistake costs them search traffic…

deinstall

When I deinstalled Chrome to start over, I had the eerie experience of the deinstall program launching Internet Explorer instead of Firefox (my current default browser), to bring up the Google Chrome Help Centre. The deinstall of Chrome has not reset my default browser, so the deinstaller has apparently been hardcoded to start Internet Explorer, simply because Windows always includes it.
The web page it brought up does not even feature a questionnaire about why I deinstalled, so I fail to understand why the deinstaller does this.
Note to Google: please don’t start programs without my permission ever again. That’s evil.

reinstall

When I installed Chrome a second time, I was careful to click the link. I was surprised to see that it listed Internet Explorer only. It did not list Firefox, Flock, NetScape, Opera or Safari. Now, I just wanted to uncheck the import, but anybody looking to switch from any of these might appreciate the ability import of their browser settings. I am pretty sure it is supposed to offer import from Firefox. That it doesn’t when I merely try to install for the second time suggests that this piece of code has not been tested thoroughly.
This install experience already confirmed Google’s labelling of Chrome as a 0.x Beta.

again

When I was done with the settings dialog, setup did not return me to the dialog with the link, but bluntly proceeded with installation - and I found that it still showed the Microsoft bookmarks. The deinstallation program had not asked whether I wanted these removed, and left them there. There appears to be no option to undo the import or simply revert to default settings.

I deleted the User Data directory to try a third install. I did not get to see any dialog now, but I did not get to see the list Internet Explorer favourites either.

All in all the, the entire install experience was of highly disappointing low quality.

directory

Google Chrome does not install into Program Files, but into your Documents and Settings. That is wrong., period.

starting up

minimal

If you thought Opera is minimal, you are in a for shock. The Chrome interface is less than minimal. There is a window around the browser viewport, and there is… well, not much more than that. There is an address bar, there are two drop-down menus identified by icons instead of text, and That’s about all. You hardly notice the tab or the plus sign that lets you open another tab.

I quite like the minimal look, but looks are less important than usability. Chrome seems to have less user interface than the already rather minimal Internet Explorer 7 Beta. Internet Explorer 7 had to change back to a fuller, more usable interface, and I expect Chrome to feature a more realistic user interface soon.

The minimise, restore and close button on the top right of Chrome’s window have the Vista look, even if you are running on Windows XP. The slightly different look isn’t a big issue, but it is wrong, and quite a few users are going to be annoyed that double clicking the upper left corner does not close Chrome, but maximises and restores the window size instead.

status bar

Google Chrome does not seem to have a status bar. It will display the URL of a link in the lower right corner when when you mouse over it, but the status bar is otherwise invisible.

I believe this user interface approach to be untenable. User like a status bar, and plug-ins need the status bar as place to display some information.

dynamic tabs

like Opera

Google Chrome is a lot like Opera. Most modern browsers show a bunch of tabs below the address bar, but Opera shows the tabs above the address bar. Google Chrome does the same, and for much the same reasons.

browser controls

Google says the tabs has been placed above the page, but that is not really what happened. Google did not place the tab above the page, but placed the browser controls inside each tab.

That’s not some random user interface change, but a logical consequence of the design in which the Chrome app is a nearly empty shell, while each tab is a separate browser window. When each tab window is almost its own browser, each tab window needs its own browser controls.

detach

Because each tab window is practically its own browser, they are hardly attached to the main chrome window. The Chrome application is just where the tabs happen to be. The main chrome app needs to be running, but the tab windows can be detached from the main window and placed elsewhere on your desktop, much like Safari’s Site-Specific Browsers (SSB) and Fluid (Mac OS X application).

chrome-less Chrome

Each tab window normally includes the most essential user interface elements, such as forward and backward buttons and an address bar, but you can launch web applications in a window without these. You want browser controls when you are browsing, but you do not need an address bar to run a single web application inside a tab window.

déjà vu

Detaching tab windows does not work when you’ve just started Google Chrome for the first time. Whenever you try to detach the tab, you move the entire window instead. That’s because there is only one tab. You need to have at least two tabs before you can detach one.

When you detach a tab, you get another browser window like the first one. You can create multiple windows and have some fun moving tabs from one window to another.

All this may be new for many users, but Opera are likely to experience a strong sense of déjà vu. The extent to which Google Chrome was inspired by Opera is quite remarkable.

Speed Dial

You can’t miss the Most Visited page that the browser defaults to. The Most Visited Page works just like Opera’s Speed Dial. Yes, another Opera-inspired feature.

What’s missing from the Speed Dial feature is the ability to remove sites. You may get no page when you make a typo, but Chrome will add the URL you typed to its Most Visited page anyway. You may also want to remove sites that only show up because you forgot to disable private browsing.
The Speed Dial feature will only show the most visited sites, but there is a link to show your full browsing history.

home page

start page

You might expect a Google browser to default to Google as its home page, but it does not. It defaults to showing the Most Visited page instead.

Chrome’s options dialog box lists the Most Visited page as a home page. That is not right. The Most Visited page is a start page, but it isn’t a home page.
The awkward dialog actually shows the difference; if you pick a home page and then choose to use the Most Visited page as your start page again, the dialog box URL keeps showing the home page you picked. Somehow, even the behaviour of Chrome’s own interface did not wake the Chrome development team up to the difference between a start page and a home page.

home page button

Google Chrome has a home page button, it just doesn’t show by default. You have to go into option to enable it. Google is probably hiding it because it doesn’t work right. If you’ve set a home page and then set your start page to be the Most Visited page, clicking the home page button does not take you to your home page, it takes you to your start page. These are two different concepts, and you need two different buttons, to avoid needless confusion.

The Chrome team keeps confusing these two concepts. That’s strange with so many Firefox developers on the team. After all, Firefox does it right; it simply shows the home page as one of the start-up options.

Chrome does not need to default to google.com as the home page, because it defaults to using Google in the Omnibox.

Omnibox

Chrome’s address bar is more than just an address bar. It is heavily inspired by Opera’s Quick Find and Firefox’s AwesomeBar. Chrome had to have a cool name too, so it is called the Omnibox (apparently with lower-case b). Google picked that name because the Omnibox does it all; it features auto-completion, full text search for your browsing history, and suggestions.

The Omnibox really is an address bar, search history and search engine box rolled into one. When you type something, Chrome will first try to interpret it as an URL, then try to find in its history, and finally go out on the web to consult a search engine.

Combining the address bar and search box may sound strange to some, but it feels quite natural to many. Many people are already doing all their browsing from the Google search box. The Omnibox design is an acknowledgement of that reality, but provides a better experience than the Google home page because it knows your browsing history and was deliberately designed with this usage in mind.

If you want to make sure Chrome does not try to interpret your text as a web address, start with a question mark. That tells Chrome you are entering a search query.

You can guess which search engine is the default. You can configure another one, but the more interesting observation is that, in some sense, this is the real home page setting; Google Chrome does not need to default to google.com as the home page, because it defaults to using Google in the Omnibox.

suggestive

The Omnibox provides auto-complete suggestions based on what you’ve typed so far. There are rather obvious privacy and search engine implications to this feature.

domain highlighting

The Omnibox always highlights the domain name by bolding it. That’s a small anti-phishing measure, that helps you notice spoofed sites. It is also something that the Firefox add-on Locationbar2 already offers, and Microsoft is going to add it to Internet Explorer 8.

bookmark bar

Bookmarking is easy; just click the five-pointed star icon in front of the address bar. The white star will turn yellow to confirm that you bookmarked the page. It will be yellow every time you visit the page until you remove the bookmark again.

Chrome has a bookmark bar, but it is off by default. You have to turn it on or just import your existing bookmarks. That’s a minor issue. The bigger issue is that the bookmark bar defaults to showing on the Speed Dial page only, and it is gone if you navigate elsewhere. If you choose to show a home page, it seems you cannot access your bookmarks anymore. There is an "Always show bookmark bar" menu item on the Options menu, but the default settings the Chrome team picked create create an unnecessary "where is my bookmark" experience.

This kind of user interface blunder makes me wonder whether Google did any usability testing at all. The bookmark bar should be accessible to all users, not just those with the same user interface preferences as the Chrome team, not just to those who bother to search the menu for the option to turn it on. Bluntly removing the bookmark bar when the user decides to use a home page instead of the Most Visited Page is wrong. It is a direct violation of the user interface Principle of Least Surprise.

Options

encoding

The default encoding for web pages is not UTF-8, but ISO 8859-1. That may seem wrong, but it is right. Good sites specify their encoding and Chrome will use that. This default is not for good sites, for bad sites that fail to specify an encoding. The only thing That’s wrong here that the dialog does not make it clear that the value specified here is a fallback value for sites that fail to specify their encoding as they should.

languages

A really nice feature is that Chrome lets you pick your user interface language from an impressively large list. It doesn’t list Flemish or Frisian, but the top languages are all there.

Google Gears

Chrome includes something called Google Gears. This is Google technology that makes the browser a better platform for web applications such as Google Docs. Google Gears is available for others browsers as a plug-in.

Chrome has Gears integrated into the browser already. Chrome provides control over which websites are allowed to use Gears. The Under the Hood tab has a "Change Google Gears Settings" button that brings up a dialog that shows which sites you’ve granted permission to.

private browsing

privacy mode

Chrome has a private browsing mode. Google calls it the Incognito mode. Incognito Mode is like the Private Browsing mode in Apple Safari. The browser will not leave evidence from a private session on your computer, but you may still get tracked by your employer, your ISP, key loggers or people standing behind you.

Private browsing is becoming a big thing. Opera lets you delete private data, and block things on a per-site basis, but does not feature a private browsing mode. Internet Explorer does not feature it either, but Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2 shows that Interest Explorer 8 will have an InPrivate Mode. Firefox and Flock users can install the Stealther add-on to browse privately.

I quite like the way the Google Chrome comic book explains Chrome’s private browsing mode. Incognito Mode is a read-only mode; you can access your browsing history, but you will not add to it; what happens in this tab, stays in this tab. All cookies are kept private too; as soon as you end a private session, all its cookies are wiped out.

You start Incognito Mode by choosing "New incognito window" from the Tool menu. Chrome then opens a new window. That window has a grey instead of blue border and features an image of a dude wearing both sunglasses and raincoat in the upper left corner. That is cute, but it does shifts all the tabs to the right.

web standards

Google Chrome has good support for web standards. You can read this page, an XHTML 1.1 page, in Google Chrome.

Google Chrome uses WebKit, the same browser engine that Apple Safari uses, so Google Chrome has essentially the same high quality support for web standards as Apple Safari does. There may be small differences because they do not use the same WebKit version.

Is Google Chrome "Safari for Windows done right"? Well, it certainly does not have the font problems that Apple Safari had, and, despite my complaints about it, Google Chrome does seem to respect the Windows user interface guidelines a lot more than Safari does.
More importantly, Chrome includes anti-phishing technology, while Safari does not.

Safe Browsing

Google Chrome has built-in protection against malware and phishing. It automatically downloads blacklist of phishing and malware sites, to warn you happen to browse to one, just like Firefox does.

Alert Bar

Google Chrome may show a yellow Alert Bar along the top of your window. For example, when you visit a website that requires logon, it will ask you whether you want Chrome to save your password.

Security

Chrome’s first security defect was reported before I finished writing this. It is a rather embarrassing one, because it is a defect that was first reported for Apple Safari, and is only present in Google Chrome because the Chrome team kept using an old version WebKit, and did not update Chrome to use a newer version of WebKit as they should have.

Apple patched the flaw in Safari 3.1.2, released on 2008 Jun 20 - That’s more than two months ago. Google Chrome is still using WebKit version 525.13, the same version that Apple Safari 3.1 uses.

Avi Raff, the researcher who found the vulnerability does not mince words: Chrome seems to be a very nice and slick browser, but it is far from being secured as it is advertised by Google. It borrows several insecure features from other browsers, and it has its own security design flaws..

Releasing a browser with a security flaw that was fixed months ago already is a pretty dismal start of Chrome’s security track record. Chrome relies on the annoying GoogleUpdate process to get updates, but lacks an "Check for Updates" menu item like Firefox has.

stability

Google likes to claim Chrome is stable, and they have indeed done things to make Chrome a robust program, but for now, just typing about:% in the address bar is enough to make it crash. That’s just typing it in there, you don’t even need to hit the return key!

Google Update is worse than Apple Software Update.

GoogleUpdate

GoogleUpdate is highly annoying. It keeps connecting to the Internet to check for updates at the most inconvenient moments, which immediately prompts a pop-up box from the firewall. I invite anyone who thinks that I should just give unrestricted Internet access to any automatic update program to think again.

Google Update is worse than Apple Software Update. Both are installed without asking permission. Both try to connect without asking permission. I have not kept score, but Google Update seems to phone much more frequently than Apple Software Update. Worse, you will often find multiple copies in the Windows Task Manager and they all try to update. It is maddening.

You can kill the GoogleUpdate process but it keeps coming back and there is no readily apparent way to turn it off. Google Update is evil.

adware

We like to think of Google as a search company, but when you consider where its money comes from, you’ll understand that it really is an advertising company. Google is eager to serve adds to you, but Chrome is not adware. There is no advertising built into Chrome. However, Chrome’s defaults and and the built-in Google Gears make it more likely that you will visit Google sites, and Google does serve adds there.

There seems to be something very wrong with Chrome’s current design. If you just leave Chrome running in the background, your hard disk light will burn incessantly.

resource hog

A big problem with Chrome is that it is a resource hog. Google Chrome wastes CPU cycles like crazy. There seems to be something very wrong with Chrome’s current design. If you just leave Chrome running in the background, your hard disk light will burn incessantly.

I left the browser idling while I went about doing other things, such as writing this text. I noticed the hard disk light and checked the Task Manager. The Task Manager showed Chrome’s CPU usage to be fluctuating between 15 and 18 percent. That’s usurping one sixth of my computer’s processing power to, well, to do nothing in some impressively ineffective way. This poor product is in serious need of some performance analysis.

Task Manager

Google Chrome has its own Task Manager of sorts. This will show you how much memory and CPU each tab and each plug-in is using. Click Shift+Esc to bring it up and choose "Stats for nerds" to see more detail - in a browser tab.
This features lets you see which pages are resource hogs. It tells you which tabs to close to improve performance, and may help shame the creators of those pages into improving them.
A funny feature of the Stats for nerds feature is that the tab will not just show memory usage for Chrome tabs and plug-ins, but will show total memory usage for other browsers as well.

This allows you to compare memory usage by opening the same page in different browsers. Google wouldn’t have added this if Chrome did not do well in most comparisons. don’t let this page fool you into thinking Chrome has better performance than Opera or Firefox. Performance is not just about memory. Do compare CPU usage.

add-ons

The biggest disappoint about Chrome is that it does not support Firefox add-ons. Many users who might like to switch will still don’t so because Chrome lacks the popular AdBlock, NoScript and IE Tab add-ons.

Google Toolbar

You might expect the Google Toolbar to be built-in, but it is not. You might expect it to be available for Chrome, but it is not. There is no spell check, no search term highlighting, no PageRank indicator, no AutoFill, no links to Google Desktop or Google Mail.
If you use any of these regularly, it may be hard to like Google Chrome. You could make smart use Google’s Bookmark Bar to create your own toolbar, but it is much easier to keep using Firefox and wait for Google to update their Google Toolbar to support Chrome.

what’s wrong

If Google wants users to take their Windows program serious, they better make sure it behaves like a Windows program should. The Vista-like look isn’t a big problem, but it is wrong, and things are worse: Google Chrome does not respect your Windows colour theme.

Google is not eager to make more desktop applications, it made Google Chrome to encourage us switch to its web applications.

what’s missing

Most browsers support add-ons, and many integrate either an email reader, an RSS feed reader or both. Google Chrome lacks all of that. A later version is likely to add support for add-ons, but Google is not so likely to integrate either an email reader or RSS reader into Chrome.

Google offers Google Mail and Google Reader. Google Chrome includes Google Gears and a fast JavaScript engine in support of these online services. Google is not eager to make more desktop applications, it made Google Chrome to encourage us switch to its web applications.

Google Chrome does not import Live Bookmarks. Live Bookmarks is just a silly name that Firefox uses for RSS feeds. Google does not supports RSS, so it does not support Live Bookmarks either.

Java

Chrome support JavaScript, but it does not support Java applets. Google Chrome Tips & Tricks details how to get Java support in Google Chrome.

privacy

Google may be eager to improve browsers, it is not eager to improve your privacy. Google Chrome has many privacy issues. Every installation of Google Chrome gets a unique identifier that is used to track your behaviour. Google’s privacy policy admits this: Your copy of Google Chrome includes one or more unique application numbers.

conclusion

Google Chrome’s voracious CPU usurpage while idling is unacceptably greedy.

Beta product

Google Chrome is obviously a Beta product. Its setup program is one of the worst I’ve seen this year.

Google’s setup routine needs a lot of work and the Chrome team needs to brush up on Windows standards and guidelines.

CPU usurpage

Google Chrome’s voracious CPU usurpage while idling is unacceptably greedy. don’t dismiss that design blunder lightly; if I were running five such poorly coded programs my multi-gigahertz computer would become practically unusable.

user interface

The user interface is so minimal, that they apparently skipped quality control on it. The Google Chrome’s team confused usage of a simple term like home page should never have made it out into the wild.

Chrome

The interface tries to hide everything, and that just does not make much sense. Google Chrome needs more chrome. Google may think of browsers as chrome around the web, but users do like a home page button, do want to manage their bookmarks, do appreciate a status bar, and do want to install plug-ins.

Opera- inspired

Google Chrome has an Opera-inspired user interface. It looks even cleaner than Opera. The one Opera feature Chrome did not copy (yet?) is gestures.

Google likes to claim it runs faster than any other browser, but that claim is misleading. Page download speed is determined by your connection, and rendering speed by the browser engine. Chrome uses WebKit like Safari does, so its browsing performance is about the same. Its JavaScript engine may be a lot faster, but a site has to rely on JavaScript a lot for you to notice that.

Google Chrome borrowed many features from other browsers: Opera’s speed dial used to show thumbnails of the most frequently visited pages, Safari’s inline find feature, Internet Explorer’s private browsing mode, Firefox’s spell checker. Many of Google Chrome’s features are already available in Opera, and many can be added to Firefox through add-ons (see Get Google Chrome Features in Firefox).

Google Pack

Google Pack still includes Firefox and the Google Toolbar, but Google is likely to replace that with Google Chrome once the product matures.

features

Chrome does not offer to remember the open tabs when you close it. The bookmarking support is basic, with no way to export your bookmarks. There is no Google Toolbar for Chrome. Google Chrome does not support Firefox add-ons. Chrome has no built-in RSS reader or email program, and is not likely to offer these in the future.

lacklustre

Chrome is a lacklustre product that still needs to do a lot of polishing. The Omnibox is nice, but the overall interface seems to have undergone no usability testing at all. The private browsing is nice to have, but is overshadowed by Chrome’s serious privacy issues. Chrome is incredibly CPU-hungry, and installs an immensely annoying GoogleUpdate program. The install does not work right yet, and Google Chrome even introduces old defects onto your system.

Google Chrome is definitely a Beta product.

updates

2008-09-03 evil license slashed

Various people who did bother to read the license found that Google awards itself a license to all the content you view in Chrome. This resulted in a small storm of protest and Google has changed the license.

2008-09-05: Chrome logo not original?

The Chrome logo practically invites comparison to the Simon toy and a Pokémon ball, its even not entirely unlike the logo for the Windows Media Player. However, its resemblance to the ThinkFree Service logo is uncanny. The makers of ThinkFree Office have created a video exclusive in which they demonstrate the, ahem, creative process behind the Chrome logo.

2008-09-17: Google Chrome Channel Chooser

Google has released the Google Chrome Channel Chooser. It allows you to choose between the Beta releases and Development releases. Development releases are less stable but more frequent. End users should not use Chrome until the channel chooser offers a Release option.

2008-09-26: Chrome for MacOS

Google Chrome is not available for MacOS or Linux yet, but MacOS and Linux users can try CodeWeaver’s CrossOver Chromium. MacOS X users can also try Stainless.

2008-12-13: Google Pack

Google released Google Chrome 1.0 a few days ago and the Google Pack now includes Chrome instead of Firefox.

2011-07-16 Google Gears

Google ended the Gears project on 2011-03-1 to focus on HTML5 instead.

2012-05-22 TapTheHive gone

The TapTheHive domain is no more. The link to This Post Not Made In Chrome; Google’s EULA Sucks has been removed.

2012-05-22 Chromium license

The Chromium project has its own domain now. The Chromium home page still links to http://code.google.com/chromium/terms.html, but that link is forwarded to the Chromium home page itself. The link text of this link is BSD License. The link has been removed.

links

Google Chrome & Co

Chrome introduction

browsers and browsers engines

browsers

browser engines

JavaScript

off-line installer

End User License Agreement

Carpet Bombing Chrome

Chrome Logo

Fluid

MacOS & Linux