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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Google's browser boon with a pandora's box?

September 3, 2008 Google's just-released Chrome takes the same approach to browser design that Google takes to its home page -- stripped-down, fast and functional, with very few bells and whistles.

That's both the good news and the bad news about this browser. Those who like a no-frills approach to their Web experience, and who want the content of Web sites front and center, will welcome it. But those who want a more fully featured interface with extras will prefer either Internet Explorer or Firefox.

The user interface of a browser is called its chrome, and Google set out to reduce the chrome -- in other words, simplify the user interface -- as much as possible. Chrome has so little interface, the content area of the browser is larger than those of other browsers -- it almost feels like full-screen mode. In the same way that Google puts search front and center on its home page, this browser puts content first.

It's the only browser that has been built from the ground up for a world in which the browser is a front end to Web-based applications and services like those that Google provides, and like those that are used increasingly by businesses. Each tab in Chrome runs as its own separate process, so if one tab is busy or bogged down, it won't affect the performance in other tabs. Also important is that Chrome comes equipped with Google Gears, which is a kind of glue that ties together Web-based applications and your own hard disk creating a browser able to run Web-based applications with the same speed, interactivity and stability as client-based applications.

By providing a superior platform for running its Web-based applications, Google is giving itself a chance to supplant Office with Google Docs.

The address bar — what Google calls the Omnibox — is one of Chrome's nicer features. It doubles as a search bar, it works much like the address bar in Internet Explorer 8 and Firefox 3: It lists suggested Web pages as you type, which it gathers from previously visited sites and your bookmarks, as well as making suggestions of its own based on Web site popularity.

The biggest break with other browsers is that each tab in Chrome is, in essence, its own browser. Because each tab is in essence its own browser, if that tab crashes, it should not crash the entire browser. But Chrome doesn't group and color-code tabs like Internet Explorer 8 does. However, Chrome does offer a variety of right-click options for handling tabs, such as closing all the tabs except for your current tab, and closing all tabs to the right of your current tab. It opens to a page that lists your nine most visited Web pages with a thumbnail for each, a recent bookmark list, recently closed tabs and a search box that lets you search through the history of sites you've visited. Internet Explorer 8 offers a similar feature. Chrome doesn't have a feature that will restore previous sessions. Chrome has all the security features you'd expect in a modern browser, including a pop-up blocker and an antiphishing tool. Chrome also has what it calls Incognito mode, in which all traces of your browsing session disappear when you close that window like in Internet Explorer 8.

Google also says that Chrome increases security in another way, by essentially running each tab in an individual sandbox. The sandbox is closed off from the rest of your PC, Google claims. It can't write to your hard drive, or read files from certain areas of your PC such as your Desktop. See Sandboxie front line browsing defence

One of the extra features is the Task Manager, an applet similar to Windows' Task Manager. It shows each separate process being used by Chrome and displays memory use for each, as well as the CPU use each takes up. And it also shows which are currently accessing the Internet or network, and the current access speed.

There's even more to the Task Manager. Click "Stats for nerds" at the bottom of the window, and a tab opens with even more statistics. It's geek heaven.

Another hidden extra is a kind of search accelerator that lets you quickly search through many popular sites without having to visit them. Type the first letter of the site you want to visit -- such as "a" for Amazon -- into the address bar, then hit the Tab key, and you can then immediately add a search term and search that site.
For this feature to work, you'll have to have done a search on that site previously.

The new browser Chrome could be Google's greatest privacy invader yet. In fact, Chrome can send back the keystrokes you type into its Address Bar, even if you don't bother to hit Enter. As you type, your text is sent back to Google, which analyzes it and makes the auto-suggestions. That's why you don't even need to press Enter for the text to head to Google. Making matters worse is that Google has already said it will store approximately two percent of the information it gets this way, including the IP address of the computer. Google already has tremendous amounts of information about you, including your search habits. With Chrome, matters get worse --- it can now even find out what you type, even if you don't visit a Web site. It's not at all clear at this point what Google will do with this data. There are a few ways you can stop your information from being sent from Chrome back to Google, though. If you use a search provider other than Google, the information won't be sent. And if you don't use auto-suggest, the information won't be sent, either. To use a different provider, or to turn off auto-suggestion, click the Tools icon, and select Options. You can then select a different search provider from the drop-down list next to Default search. To turn off auto-suggest, click Manage, and a screen like the one below appears. Uncheck the box at the bottom of the screen. You can also use Incognito Mode, in which all your surfing remains private --- think of it as porn mode. To launch an incognito window, click the Page button and choose New incognito window. You can also press Ctrl-Shift-N.

There is one drawback to downloading in Chrome, though: It doesn't appear to integrate with your virus scanner, as does Firefox.

Keep in mind that this is a beta and clearly has some bugs. Ironically, on one page visited, it was unable to display an embedded Google Map, while Firefox had no problem displaying the map

Although Chrome is a beta, it feels quite stable; after many hours spent browsing to numerous sites, it didn't crash once. So you can download it without much worry about its stability.

Download Google Chrome (BETA) for Windows

External Links:
Technical background about the browser.
Mozilla: Firefox is faster than Chrome
Excerpts above are from

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