Google Chrome: Meet the New Boss

Meet the new boss, not quite the same as the old boss. While Google Chrome isn't likely to unseat Firefox as the browser of choice for most Linux users very soon, recent development builds are showing a great deal of promise.

Google Chrome may not be the perfect Web browser, if there is such a beast, but it’s definitely going to give Firefox and Internet Explorer a run for their money. Even though Chrome is still in developer preview for Linux, it’s already making great strides.

For the past week or so, I’ve been running Google Chrome as my primary browser. Ben Kevan has been making packages for openSUSE for a while, and I finally decided to take the plunge. Initially, I thought I’d take it for a spin and go back to Firefox — which is what usually happens when I try a different browser. This time around, I may be sticking with Chrome for most of my browsing.

Speed, Stability, Extensions: Pick Two

Installing Chrome on openSUSE was a snap — just install an RPM and Chrome is ready to go. At first launch, Chrome will offer to import your settings from other browsers. It sucked in my Firefox options flawlessly, including bookmarks and passwords.

The first thing that I noticed with Chrome is that it’s speedy. Really speedy. Sites seem to load a little faster and the browser user interface (UI) itself seems a little snappier. This seems particularly true when using Google services like GMail and Google Reader, but for the most part holds true across other sites as well. On occasion, though, some Web elements don’t seem to want to work with Chrome at all. For instance, posting into an older version of WordPress, some of the menus when rendered in Chrome do not work, period. This is rare, but crops up for me at least once or twice per day.

In addition to being speedy, though, Chrome is also rock-solid stable. Since Chrome on Linux is still in development and not considered a “stable” release, I wasn’t expecting great things in the stability department. After a day of browsing with no crashes, I was impressed. After a week with almost no problems with Chrome, I’m deeply impressed.

The build I used is almost feature complete, although there seems to be no support for printing — which is probably good for the environment, but not so hot when you need to actually print things. There is a context menu item for printing, but nothing happens when I select the option. I assume that the Chrome folks will get around to this one eventually.

Chrome’s UI is a bit non-standard. Instead of the usual set of menus, Chrome just has a couple of icons to the right-hand side of the interface next to the location bar. This works pretty well, though it was a bit odd at first. By default, Chrome shows no “home” button, though this can be enabled in the Options.

The location bar doubles as the search bar, and the standard Ctrl-K shortcut will bring you to the location bar to perform your search. Since I’m used to this shortcut from Firefox, I fell into using it immediately. For users who aren’t, though, I wonder how they would discover the shortcut. There’s no clue in the UI that I could find that would help the user out here. You can find a list online but it’d be nice to have a menu item as well.

In case you’re wondering, yes — you can switch the default search engine. If you prefer to use Yahoo, Bing (still listed as “Live Search” in the option), Wikipedia, or another site, you’re free to do so.

Compared to the other popular browsers, Chrome has a very stripped-down set of features and options. However, I had trouble actually finding any features missing that I couldn’t live without, excepting printing. What I do miss is some of the extensions I use heavily in Firefox, like Xmarks and Evernote. For some reason, I couldn’t get Flash working in Chrome either (even with the –enable-plugins option) though I can’t say I really missed Flash very much.

One thing bugs me about Google Chrome — being bugged to make it the default browser. I’m not quite sure why browser designers feel the necessity to implant nagware into otherwise nifty software. Prompt once, and then let it go, folks. Chrome isn’t alone in this, but it’s still an unnecessary annoyance.

Chrome on Linux is still a work in progress, but it seems good enough to use full-time if you don’t mind reverting to Firefox or another browser occasionally. For the most part, I’ve been able to rely on Chrome as my primary browser and probably will continue using Chrome on my main desktop for the foreseeable future.

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