After over a year from launching on the Windows platform, Google finally got around to launching Google Chrome for Mac beta December 8.
Although I’d been occasionally trying out the builds before that, most were buggy so I didn’t give the browser a serious shot until the beta came out. Despite still not having extensions, Chrome does offer Webkit’s developer tools, including resource tracking, a similar feature offered in Firebug in Firefox, and the one tool I can’t live without.
This by no means is a definitive review of what Google Chrome has to offer, and instead offers my observations and issues. As of around a week ago, I’ve been using Chrome as my primary browser (be it I’m still using Safari for some sites) on two machines.
The need for speed
The promise of Google Chrome from day one (before it launched on Mac) is that it was said to offer a quicker browsing experience. While I can’t offer definitive figures to back that up, there’s no doubt that it is a quick browser. The difference between Firefox and Chrome is distinctly clear in my use, although the speed difference Safari vs Chrome maybe not as much. If you’re in the United States on a super fast connection, you might not notice it as much, however here in Australia, be it on an ADSL 2+ connection that is supposed to offer 24mpbs down (well, it only registers 13mpbs down), the speed counts when browsing sites outside of Australia. Latency between here and San Francisco for example is around 230ms vs 22ms when hitting a server based in Melbourne. I’d suggest that the slower your connection, or the more remote in the world you are, the more you’ll notice the quicker browsing in Google Chrome.
Being based on Webkit, the same engine that powers Safari, compatibility shouldn’t be a major issue, and yet maybe once a week I hit a site that won’t play nicely. One site I use semi-regularly actually states that it’s not compatible with Google Chrome yet, but they’re working on it; mind you, things seem to work fine on the site, well 99% of the time anyway. I don’t think compatibility is probably a serious consideration if you’re looking to switch, although the ability to run an addon that allows me to pretend I’m using another browser would be nice.
The One Search/ URL Box
If there is one thing I hate in Google Chrome (and one reason why I might yet return to Firefox) is the one box for search and URL’s, or what Google calls the “Omnibox.” For those who haven’t tried the Omnibox, you use the one box to “type both web addresses and searches in Google Chrome.” It simply may be a case of old habits dying hard, but I liked a separate box for search; that, and I regularly would type the name of the site into the URL box in Firefox to get to the site, vs the actual URL. In Firefox, it would (presuming it was the first search result in Google) automatically take you to that site, in Google Chrome it takes you to the search results. I’m sure that’s good for Google in a business sense (after all, they get to show you more ads) but it sucks in terms of usability because you have to go through an extra step to get to where you already know where you want to go.
Perhaps I haven’t ticked the right box, but Google Chrome for Mac Beta doesn’t appear to have a spell check. That’s not a huge issue as I run posts through a commercial grade non-browser based spell check anyway, but having red lines under words with issues is helpful in Firefox.
My switch from using Firefox primarily to Chrome was helped by one other factor: on my current model (and maybe 5 month old) Macbook Pro, Firefox completely borked after the last major upgrade. No bookmarks, no going back a page, and some error message about conflicts on the computer. Despite a fresh install (and very little installed on the machine outside of Firefox), still the same problems. On my main MacPro, I didn’t have the same issues, however having switched to Chrome earlier on the laptop, I ended up following on my main machine about a week ago.
I don’t regret making the move, even if I keep forgetting that typing a site name into the Omnibox now means another step before getting there.
Google Chrome for Mac Beta despite not being a final release has in my experience been completely stable, quick, and mostly a pleasure to use. Once they add support for extensions, I’ll probably end up using it for a long time to come. Well worth a look if you haven’t tried it yet.