TechSutra

Google Chrome for Mac - A Review

Sorry for the long delay in updates. There were three reasons for it

  1. Traveled a lot and hence had work piled up.
  2. Free time was sucked into creating www.celebsutra.com
  3. Whenever I checked, chrome had made only incremental improvements but there were always bugs which made using it painful.
    • Using flash spiked the CPU usage of chrome to 100% making the Macbook run hot. This issue is still present but is not as bad as before. But do keep a watch on your CPU usage when using chrome.
    • Importing settings from Firefox never worked. I have a lot of bookmarks/bookmarklets in Firefox without which my daily browsing would be a lot more difficult.

Installation

The chrome version I used was the first build that I could use as a daily browser. You should ideally clear your Chromium Profile if you want to decrease the chances of encountering bugs. Execute this command from Terminal

rm -rf ~/Library/Application\ Support/Chromium/

Make sure not to make any mistake while typing this. rm -rf command is quite powerful and can wipe out data if you are not careful. If you are not comfortable with the command line, then using finder go to Your Home Directory -> Library -> Application Support and delete the Chromium folder inside that. There are two Library folders. Make sure you are using the one in your home directory.

Once chrome starts it asks whether you want to import settings from the browsers installed in your system which in my case was Firefox and safari. Choosing  Firefox caused chrome to prompt me to close all Firefox windows so that chrome can go ahead with the import. Once I had done that the import went smoothly.Having Firefox running was probably why the previous imports were not successful. But chrome never warned me before!

picture-3For those in the know, this is actually a review of Chromium and not Chrome but since many get confused by the concept of  Chromium, I have decided to use the name Chrome throughout. For those not in the know, Chromium is unbranded Google Chrome.

Bookmarks

All the bookmarks, bookmarklets and bookmark folders were imported correctly. But chrome still lacks a full-fledged bookmark manager. You can create folders and add bookmarks into it on the bookmarks bar but saving bookmarks outside of the bookmarks bar was not possible. Keyword searches were also imported successfully from Firefox and added to the Bookmarks->Other Bookmarks -> keywords menu. I use only the bookmark bar for bookmarks and use delicious for bookmarks which are not often used. So for my style of use, chrome's bookmark functionality is perfectly fine.Favicons are also enabled for bookmarks.

Print

Print has been recently enabled on the mac builds. Since I don't have a printer at hand to actually test the printing capability, I did the next best thing - I saved the page as a PDF from the print dialog. PDFs generated by Firefox and Chrome were identical and this is one of  my most used features in Firefox and I'm glad it is working perfectly in Chrome (I used the functionality to save PDF copies of online receipts)

Preferences

The preference pane of Chrome has been hooked up almost completely. Only some preferences in "Under the hood" remain unavailable. You can set homepage preferences, download preferences and others. Chrome offers to save passwords and the passwords are stored in your OS X Keychain. But on clicking "Show saved passwords" Chrome merely opens the Keychain application and leaves the user to find out the relevant passwords. Other than this glitch, saving passwords is a smooth experience and the functionality is similar to Firefox, where a non-modal pops up on the top of the site asking you to save the password.

Downloading

It is a pleasure to watch something download in Chrome. Instead of just showing download stats or even a progress bar, Chrome has implemented a progress pie (I just invented that).

Chrome download details

Once the download finished the pie flashes.You can view all your downloads  at Window -> Downloads. This page also shows your ongoing downloads which can be paused or cancelled. The download items can be searched for and if you want you can also permanently remove them from the list.

Speed

Though many features have been added to Chrome recently, it remains as snappy as ever. Launching Chrome takes less than 2.0 seconds on this two year old macbook (2GHz, 2GB Ram). Every operation, whether it is opening a new tab, scrolling a page or adding bookmarks happen without any lag. The javascript performance of Chrome has always been ahead of its competitors. I haven't had a chance to test Chrome against newer releases of Safari or Firefox but Chrome's javascript performance is always improving. It is the only browser in which google wave was a snappy application. Google wave made Firefox 3.5 crawl and beg for mercy and taxed Safari 4.0.1 but Chrome nightly didn't miss a step :).

New Tab Page

Chrome's new tab page is super customizable.It shows you the thumbnails of most visited sites and also a "Recently closed" section from which you can recover a closed tab. The thumbnails can be rearranged, deleted, pinned down (so that it is always stays in view) or be shown as a list of links.The new tab page also offers tips on using Chrome and clicking on the lower right corner will open the themes page.

Themes page

Chrome has supported themes for sometime now. When themes were first introduced applying a theme in Mac chrome sometimes made the browser unbearably slow.I'm happy to report that it is no longer the case. The whole experience of adding themes is smooth and if you think you want to stick to the default one after experimentation, you can always reset the theme to default from the Preferences pane.

Miscellaneous

Chrome includes a modified version of the Webkit Web Inspector. (View -> Developer -> Developer Tools). It works in general but since I'm not familiar with the web inspector, I do not know how much they differ and how they differ. A cool feature of Chrome which I wish the other browsers copied is the full screen mode (View -> Fullscreen). It hides everything but the web page and is great for distraction free reading. Though Chrome is still a work in progress, its stability has markedly improved and I didn't experience a single crash (of the browser or plugins) during my moderate usage.

Incognito (Private Browsing)

Incognito or Private Browsing(File -> New Incognito Window) is a well thought out feature of Chrome. In Firefox if choose private browsing, it will close all your existing tabs and open a private browser window. There is no visual clue except title bar text which makes it clear to the user that the browser is in private mode. Safari's implementation is worse. There is absolutely no indication (visual or textual) as to which mode the browser is in and your existing tabs remain when you go private. I have no idea whether safari treats them as part of private mode from then onwards or exempts them.

In chrome, you can mix private mode and normal mode as the mode is per window rather than for the entire browser. Also a window in incognito mode is visually distinct making it very easy to identify. All in all, chrome's implementation of private browsing is top of the class.

Extensions

Extensions are enabled by default in the nightly builds. So you can install extensions without needing to provide a commandline switch to Chrome. Extensions is right now now my least favourite part about Chrome. Extensions in chrome do not hold a handle to Firefox extensions mostly because the extension system in Chrome is not as powerful as that of Firefox. Part of the blame also lies in the fact that, chrome extension platform is very new and haven't matured yet.

What is remaining?

Task manager which lets you see the resource usage of plugins and Chrome processes have not been implemented yet. Work has started on implementing about:memory which will show you memory usage information of the Chrome processes but no information is presented to the user as of now. about:network which shows network statistics is also not implemented.

Verdict

Google Chrome for Mac is almost ready. There are no major pain points which can prevent a normal user from using it as primary browser.A power user or someone who uses a lot of Firefox extensions still might find Chrome lacking but the speed almost makes up for it!

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