02 September 2008

Alright, so I was really caught off guard by the announcement of Google Chrome (http://www.google.com/chrome). I’m REALLY impressed. It has every little key command I ever wanted: Ctrl+tab / ctrl + shift + tab moves you back and forward in your tabs. Ctrl + t create a new tab. Ctrl +L places the cursor in the location bar (and the location bar does double duty as your search bar, too! Nice! Even nicer: you can choose Microsoft as your search and they didn’t have to ask to get it that way!), etc. It even has the ability to drag tabs from the browser and 'attach' them, or detach them, at will. Again, very nice touch. It has every shortcut except one: F11. F11 (at least on IE, Firefox and Konqueror. Not Safari on Windows, I note!) maximizes the window and removes all the chrome. The reason for this should be stunningly obvious: it’s already as bare-minimal as you can get. But still, it’d be nice to have some way to go full screen. After all, how are the kiosk-esque apps supposed to work? What could be cooler than an entire application, full screen mode, written using GWT and the Google Gears extension library for GWT, deployed on Google Chrome, say at the library, or the airport? Who'd need the apple store? Imagine getting the Flash support up to snuff and deploying that on this crazy fast browser!

As a development tool, it’s definitely a solid third. Firefox + Firebug + Web Developer are the reigning champions, of course, then Safari and the hidden 'Developer' menu, then Chrome’s available but Spartan JavaScript debugger/ process monitor (a freaking process monitor! Awesome: Shift + Escape. Genius.)

Unlike Safari on Windows, the Chrome’s UI chrome seems to be rock solid. Of course, given the name it’d be ironic if that were anything less. If you manipulate Safari quick enough, it’ll stop painting itself and the grey brushed metal look will disappear to reveal standard blue + gray Windows 2000 chrome (you know, the minimize, maximize buttons, the title bar), but not so with Chrome. This could be because it’s very fast and I just haven’t found a way to get it to slow/falter.

I did have some issues with it, however. Flash flickers a bit for me – watching the video explaining Chrome, the faces would every so often flicker. I wonder if this is why they did a comic strip) It’s built using Webkit as the renderer, so most things work just fine, and it’s built using their own proprietary JavaScript VM, called V8. V8 is very interesting in that it means could potentially advance the state of the art with JavaScript. Or foul it up completely and introduce a 4th incompatible JS variant into the market. I tested a lot of different applications, however, and it seems to be working just fine. Great, in fact. I tried the usual suspects: Gmail, YouTube, Meebo, Flickr, Google Calendar and they all seemed to work fine. I use Roller for my blog and it in turn uses a widget for rich text editing. That rich text editor barked that it didn't support Mozilla < 1.3 when I tried to write this entry, but then insisted that it would try to materialize everything. It went ahead and sure enough everything works perfectly, even if the widget doesn't know it yet! Obviously the HTML heavy sites like Slashdot.org or Amazon.com worked just fine too, given the WebKit heritage.

I’m a little annoyed by the lack of Linux support (both from Google, and from Apple and their Safari product) given that WebKit was born of Konqueror’s source code. There does seem to be hope, though: the developer site at least has a doc explaining that Chrome doesn’t yet build/do anything useful on OS X / Linux. But at least they’re not pretending no one’s going to be looking for those builds!

All in all, bravo Google!

Update (08/03/2008) So, I wanted to install this sucker at work. I tried runninig it and sure enough it failed, bitten by the corporate firewall. Good for firewall, bad for me. I googled and with a little luck I chanced upon this revealing blog by Guru Prasath. I tried it and it works!