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Google Chrome First Impressions

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Before I begin, for the record, I love Firefox, and continue to use it as my primary browser. I also have IE7 and Safari installed (I’m running Windows XP Pro).

Of course, I had to try Google Chrome, even though it wasn’t touted as being ready for Prime Time just yet. After some initial struggles (to be described below), I switched to the Developer version (you need to download and run chromechannel-1.0.exe to select the Developer build rather than the normal Beta build).

Even after doing that, I continued to have some problems. This morning, the Google Updater brought me a new version of Chrome (0.2.153.1). While it hasn’t solved all of my problems, it’s a significant improvement over the last version, so it’s getting there.

First, a few of the problems. One of the sites that I use more than I should admit is MSN’s TV Guide. For years I used the tvguide.com site, then they changed it for the worse. Then I switched to Yahoo’s TV Guide for a number of years, then they broke it (it’s back to normal now, I think, but I’m sticking with MSN). MSN’s site is very heavy JavaScript (JS). Given that Chrome is supposed to include the fastest JS engine of the current browsers, that seemed like a good page to check out.

Unfortunately, the normal Beta build, and the first Developer build, would consistently hang when trying to switch providers (something I do frequently, since we’re rarely in one place for more than a few days). Eventually, the page would crash (but the browser wouldn’t!). That happened to me on a few other pages as well. This is fixed in today’s updated Developer build!

Another problem that I had (now fixed) was that Chrome wouldn’t offer me to import my Firefox settings (any kind: bookmarks, passwords, etc.). Lots of forum posts with lots of suggestions, but the other day, I finally found one that worked. I had ancient entries in my Windows Registry for versions of Firefox from bygone days (versions 0.9, 0.91, etc.!), that somehow confused Chrome. Ridiculous, since my default browser is Firefox, so the correct key can be found by all other apps other than Chrome.

Still, the fix was easy. I deleted those registry keys, and Chrome did indeed correctly import everything from Firefox.

Finally, when I had the last Developer build installed, clicking on the About Google Chrome menu item would bring up the panel, showing the version number, but the automatic check for whether this was the current version or not would hang forever, 100% of the time. I was always able to click OK to dismiss the panel, but was never able to be sure whether there was a newer version or not. That too has been corrected in this morning’s update. Now I am informed that I have the current version.

Final issue (for me) is SSL personal certificate support. I was very pleasantly surprised when Chrome auto imported my certificates from Firefox. For IE, I export the certs from Firefox, then import them, and they all work correctly. But, when I went to author this post in Chrome, I was unable to log in to my admin interface using OpenID (using SSL certs for verification). It just hung and eventually told me that the site was temporarily unavailable. This is not a big deal, but still means that there are things I can’t use Chrome for (like authoring this site!).

On to the good. I like the clean, minimalist look. The browser is definitely the fastest (by a good measure) than the others on my system. Not just JS, but HTML as well. The home page for this blog is very large. It renders nearly instantaneously in Chrome.

Like I said above, I love Firefox, and I ascribe a good amount of the difference in speed to the fact that I have numerous plugins in Firefox, all of which likely hook the content for various things, before I finally get to see it. That slows things down, but gives me functionality that I chose to install and turn on. If similar functionality was available in Chrome (which it likely will be at some point), I would likely choose to slow Chrome down as well, to gain that functionality.

Still, for now, the speed improvement it welcome.

Another major speed improvement, also likely tied exclusively to plugins, is pure launch speed. Chrome comes up really fast. Firefox doesn’t. Of course, by default, when I launch Firefox, it’s checking whether there are any updates for any plugins, so it’s not just a size and initialization problem, but a networking one as well. So, no blame for Firefox here, just a temporary enjoyment of a simpler and faster experience.

To summarize, Firefox is still my default browser, and I have no material complaints about it. I also very much look forward to version 3.1 coming near the end of the year, also supposedly with a much faster JS engine included.

But, now that Chrome has solved some niggling problems that I was experiencing, I am likely to use it more than I have been, and who knows what will eventually happen. It wouldn’t shock me if it becomes my default at some point in the future.