I downloaded Google Chrome browser on launch day for XP/Vista (the only version available for the moment, although Mac and Linux versions are to follow) and the phrase “bare bones” just doesn’t quite say enough about this minimalist offering. Those used to IE7 won’t be too disturbed by the lack of a menu bar, although pressing the “Alt” key won’t do anything in Google Chrome. Oddly, the home button is not on-screen by default – You have to enable it in settings.
The only tinkering you’ll be doing is by clicking the spanner in the top right corner, which leads to a VERY basic config menu. With tabs such as “Minor Tweaks” and “Under The Hood”, it isn’t going to replace you installation of Firefox and it’s 214 plug-ins. I don’t think that’s what Chrome is about though, it’s designed as a solid cloud-computing platform, which it is.
Unlike IE8 BETA2, it handles Google Mail and Google Calendar just fine, and I was impressed that it would let me watch embedded Flash video on the first page I chose to visit after installation. There’s a nice feature that lets you search from the address bar as you type a URL (interestingly, you can choose the search engine for this to be something other than Google).
I imported my bookmarks from IE, although Chrome wouldn’t display each site’s thumbnail in the bookmark list until I had visited that site. This might not sound like a big deal, but when you’ve got 50+ sites as bookmarks, the thumbnails make it a lot easier to pick one out at a glance, and visiting each one of them just to get the thumbnail is a daunting prospect. This is just the sort of little annoyance that could turn a person off Chrome in the first 60 seconds of use.
Every site I visited displayed just fine and I was even able to log in to my online banking (I know it’s BETA software, I didn’t get where I am today by being sensible). It also seems to load pages a tad faster than IE or Firefox.
I think the big question here is: Do we really need another browser? I’ve only been using Chrome for a couple of hours, but I’ve been impressed enough to say “this looks like a well made browser” and then think “but so is the browser I used to download it with”.
Therein lies the problem – I don’t think Chrome offers anything new. It doesn’t offer Windows Protected Mode or Data Execution Prevention like IE8 (although it is much more compatible) and it isn’t infinitely customisable like Firefox, although that will no-doubt change – it is less than 24 hours old as I write this!
So should you download it? Sure, Google Chrome seems like a perfectly good browser, just make sure you think it’s better than what you’re replacing it with. For me, I think it’s just another web-app I’ll install and never use. For example, does anyone actually use Star Office?