Google Chrome: Should You Convert?

The cat's finally out of the bag, and Google Chrome is actually in our hands. So is it impressive enough to be worth converting?

I'll be honest: I wasn't expecting to fall in love with this thing. I'm quite pleased with my Firefox setup and have no burning desire to leave it behind. After two years of development, though, Google's built a surprisingly strong overall offering. The first beta, officially released Tuesday afternoon, incorporates some interesting and appealing features -- but it's also lacking in some areas that are hard to let go.

The Good

The positives of Chrome are a'plenty. The program's multiprocess design is probably its biggest selling point. While Firefox 3 improved performance, anyone who has numerous tabs/windows open at once knows how easily one crappy site can still take it down. Chrome, on the other hand, operates every tab and window in its own unique environment, taking much of the risk away. Navigated to a slow-running site? No problem. Just close that tab and the rest of your browsing isn't bothered. It even runs Java, Flash, and other add-ons in their own environments as well, so some sloppy code won't slow down even the rest of that one page.

The bare-bones design, fitting with Google's typical clean interface approach, is rather refreshing. There's really no wasted screen real estate in this thing. Its file-style tabs are far more intuitive than the standard in-window look, and they're way more useful, too. One of my favorite features is being able to drag tabs in and out of windows at any whim. I constantly have to cut-and-paste URLs into different windows to accomplish this currently.

Other noteworthy options: The "Omnibox" search/navigation bar, which lets you type in either a URL or a search term without thinking twice (and even lets you customize your default search choice -- it's not a Google-only tool); the dynamic home page that shows your most visited sites, search engines, and bookmarks; and the IE-esque "Incognito" feature that lets you activate no-history-browsing. There's also an interesting "application mode," in which you can set a direct desktop shortcut for a Web-based application and have it open as an application rather than as a browser window. This could come in handy for things like a WordPress log-in or webmail log-in, where you don't want to accidentally navigate away from it during the day.

The Bad

The strongest con for me right now is the lack of add-ons. I rely on several Firefox extensions, and Chrome just doesn't support them yet. It will eventually, at least in theory -- but that doesn't do me any good right now.

The beta nature of the browser is also a serious concern. Spend some time surfing around and you'll see some shifty stuff as far as errors and funky formatting. Some of this may also be a result of the differing standards. Google's engineers made a point to talk about the compatibility of Chrome's WebKit foundation -- basically, they say, if a site works with Safari (which also uses WebKit), it'll work with Chrome. That may be, but Safari only accounts for about 6 percent of the browser market. Most sites aren't designed with it in that doesn't do me much good either.

There's also the notion of privacy. One wonders how much sharing Google plans on doing with its various advertising interests. Do I want them knowing every move I make during the day?

The Verdict

The speed and performance of Chrome are powerful draws and make me want to move in right now. Firefox, even in its third release, doesn't often perform to my expectations, and it drives me crazy while I'm trying to work. At the same time, though, I'm not ready to give up my add-on power. I'll keep Chrome on my system and will experiment with it over time, but for now, I'm holding out on a full switch until a more complete release -- complete with the add-ons I need, too -- is ready.

As for overall success, it's hard to imagine Chrome being able to dethrone IE. For better or for worse, Microsoft's browser accounts for the overwhelming majority of the market -- around 70 to 75 percent, depending on whom you ask. Being that many of those users are on it simply because it's the Windows default and they don't know or care to change it explains a lot. Logic would tell you that most people who might try Chrome are more likely to be Firefox users -- people who also tend to be the more technologically inclined and curious sort. So if anything, Chrome may steal some of Mozilla's fire -- but it seems unlikely it'll have a significant impact on IE's dominance, unless Google's able to eventually secure some type of Windows distribution deal.

Oh, and Mac and Linux users: Google's guys insisted your versions are on the way soon. At today's media event, they said they've been working on all three platforms concurrently. With Windows finished first, they said they wanted to get it out to the public as soon as possible to start getting feedback. So stay tuned for your turn.