[Published in the OSALL newsletter of November 2008]
Review : Google Chrome
By this time of year one might justifiably feel a tad jaded and, with the holiday season almost in grasp, even a bit depressed about the flabby hardware that really isn’t going to stand up to critical inspection – even with both eyes shut.
I’m still gloating over the advent of some luscious new hardware in my life but it has admittedly been a while since any software application tickled my fancy. Nothing new and shiny on my hard-drive, the reliable old stuff a bit dusty and blah but chugging along with only minor inconveniences and few highs to enliven the daily routine – probably a bit like being 47 years old and wondering where all the sparkly bits of being in one’s absolute prime are lurking.
Well, this has been a year of changes and another very positive one glittered into life on my computer yesterday. I wish I could say I didn’t see it coming but, with a name like Chrome, how much more beacon-like could it have been, for goodness sake. It seems generally prudent to give beta products a couple of months’ cooling-off period while the eager beavers rush to discover and correct teething problems – and so I read the launch hype, made a mental bookmark and fell back into routine while the eager beavers bevelled and contoured to their heart’s delight.
It was only when the publishing deadline for this column loomed up out of the blue at exactly the same time as a commitment to talk to the local computer club about shiny new things in my life that a spike of adrenaline combined with desperation reminded me that I hadn’t yet explored Google’s newest toy (that of course applied two months ago – since then there are other toys and I’m itching to find time to look at Google SketchUp 7 (http://sketchup.google.com/)).
A word of advice : two of us initially battled with the installation procedure. ChromeSetup.exe downloaded in split seconds but the actual installation dawdled on all morning without going anywhere useful. So a colleague outside our network brought us copies of a whole lot of files he had found inside Chrome’s installation setup and pointed us at chrome_installer.exe. Voila.
A bit of background here : I’m still brazenly using Internet Explorer 6, having had to uninstall version 7 as its added security features did untoward censorly things to my FTP access to the webserver that hosts our websites. That is a critical core aspect of my day job so it was decided that IE7 should live and let die, and consequently v.8 wasn’t even considered.
Regular readers of this column have heard that my life changed when I switched from email updates to RSS feeds a couple of years ago. Coincidentally, my feeds have resided in Google Reader for much of that time after a satisfying but temporary fling with Pluck (www.pluck.com). This happy state of affairs continued right up until close of business on Friday last week so it was with something approaching a w-a-a-a-y premature hot flush of disbelief that I couldn’t get into my Reader on Monday morning . . . or Tuesday morning . . .
And then at lunchtime on Tuesday a shining memory stick rode up to our building on a Honda bike. Had I been looking, there is little doubt that the taxis receded, the ghetto blasters didn’t for a minute or two, the breeze died down, and Google Chrome entered our portals in slow motion to the sound of trumpeting laughter from two colleagues who hadn’t left the building.
Five minutes and one chaff later (“you installed which file?”) and the boredom of the software year was vanquished. The Google branding is obvious but I love the simple layout that allows one straight into the Nitty Gritty without the Hissy Fit while looking for hidden functions : time should be spent searching for things on the Internet, not under an application’s bonnet.
Chrome works in Windows XP with Service Pack 2 and later, and Vista. Linux and Mac versions are in the pipeline.
Warning : decide if you want to accept Chrome as your default browser. I’ve had to keep IE6 in order to update our websites so I now use IE and Chrome in tandem, making the best of features from both.
Buttons are kept to a minimum, six in total. From left, the requisite Back and Forward ; Refresh ; Bookmark ; Control (current page) ; Customize and control Google Chrome.
You will find that a lot of the pop-up controls we probably take for granted are kept inconspicuous, allowing one to focus on current activities rather than be distracted by background procedures, eg downloads are monitored in the bottom lefthand corner of the window, not in a dedicated window.
I chose to import my Favourites from IE and, although there really are hundreds of them, they were installed very quickly. The longest time I spent searching for anything under the bonnet was to find out where they’d gone – and that took less than a minute. The checklist of items in Customize and Control includes “Always show Bookmarks bar”. After ticking that, the bar appeared and includes an Other Bookmarks button and a subfolder “Imported from IE”. A tiny bit of a schlep that soon becomes second nature.
The address bar offers a dropdown of suggested search terms and webpages as one types, based on one’s recent browsing history, popular sites and searches. Suggestions from Bookmarks are identified with a star and adding Bookmarks couldn’t be easier : a hollow star rests to the left of the address bar and has only to be clicked to add the current site to the list.
Cut/copy/paste/print/etc are housed in Control the current page, neatly out of sight but easily accessible.
Google Chrome instantly displayed my RSS feeds and its different style of browser functionality has speeded up my workload remarkably.
Like Firefox and recent IE versions, Chrome uses tabbed views and a new tab displays a rather interesting breakdown of Most Visited sites as the default until a destination is specified.
While using IE with pop-ups disabled, I easily had six or more IE windows open at any given time. Now Google Reader runs inside Chrome and just opens another tab in the same window each time I select a hyperlink.
One of the things I do find disconcerting and wouldn’t be at all surprised to find this changes as the product moves through beta, is that it displays some hyperlink properties as IP addresses rather than straightforward web addresses. For example, the link to Tuesday’s ConCourt Weare judgment on Pierre de Vos’ blog (http://constitutionallyspeaking.co.za/) displayed as http://220.127.116.11/uhtbin/cgisirsi/20081118151754/SIRSI/0/520/J-CCT15-08 ; of course I could (and did) click on the link and access the target. However, I wanted to know at a glance which site housed the document as I hadn’t been able to locate it through the usual channels. Pasting that address into IE revealed that it is indeed ConCourt’s webserver, but it took a minute to identify instead of a second.
One can keep one’s identity hidden by activating Incognito Mode, and the pages won’t be reflected in the history.
Quite inexplicably and the only other immediate reason I’d retain IE apart from the FTP issue, is that, believe it or not, Google Toolbar has not yet been made available in Chrome although there are versions for IE and Firefox. A plug-in for Chrome can be installed but I haven’t yet done so.
The Toolbar has become indispensable as I dance through the Internet to the music of my mind. (If you find that thought scary, I won’t mention the little voices that direct my surfing habits). Until such time as the Toolbar can be activated in my new toy, I shall continue to spy-ee with IE but roam with Chrome.
Opinions expressed in this column are my own and not necessarily those of my employer.