September 2nd, 2008

Google Chrome is a funny creature.

  • It looks precisely as minimalist as IE7 tried to. (For those keeping score: IE7 failed. Horribly.) It uses two menu buttons and they are all click-for-menu. In IE7, there were four or five menu buttons (I forget), some of them — but you won’t know until you hover! — the click-for-default-option split button, and the Help button was being hidden by a chevron even with miles of space available to show it in.

  • It really tries to remove all possible chrome. When you maximize the window, tabs will slide up to fit at the very top of the screen, to the left of the window widgets. There’s no full screen mode because it’s not necessary. The Find and status bars both grow out of the edges, refusing even to cover a full row, and at least the status bar can’t be permanently pinned.

  • Its WebKit roots affords it a version of the newest revision of the WebKit inspector, which is what shows up when you ask to inspect something. This looks terrifyingly out of place.

  • Unlike Safari, the Reload button does not change into the Stop button; the “Go to” button at the right does. Like Safari, clicking the Stop button a second too late will cause the page to reload (on account of going to the page again). Update: According to the Chromium Developer Documentation: “If the navigation state changes while the user’s mouse is over the button and the state change is not a result of a user action, the button will not change. It also protects against double-clicks.” Running Chrome in a virtual machine that was already overloaded, it was hard to get the timing right or I might have noticed this.

  • The History and Downloads options bring up special pages within tabs (headlined by search fields). Help brings up the Google support center for Chrome. Most other options actually afford their own windows.

  • The bookmark bar is detached and shows up only on the interactive Opera-style “speed dial” start page, but can be attached with a smooth animation. There’s a menu for other bookmarks, but no “bookmark center”. Bookmarks show up in autocomplete, and there’s a “bookmark this” star.

  • The persistent chrome is devoid of any text except for: 1) placeholder or current text in the URL bar, 2) any bookmarks if the bar is shown and 3) the Google logo to the left of Minimize in unmaximized mode.

  • Double-clicking the top left corner does not close the window. This being Windows, this is going to drive a bunch of people nuts.

  • Much of the overall design laps Opera with Firefox (and the no-menus screams of IE). IE 8’s method of highlighting the domain name in the address bar is also used.

  • The memory management UI is surprisingly accessible. about:memory shows an exhaustive report (and tries to measure other running browsers — it is on!), and there’s a lighter task manager that gives memory, CPU and network details along with a kill button.

  • Overall, there’s gone more polish into the browser’s appearance that most any Google project I know. Google Chrome — or at least the subset that has been paid attention to — looks small and looks good. The overall shape somewhat reminds me of palettes in Adobe CS3 apps like Photoshop. (I can only assume that lawyers have been dispatched).

When I first heard yesterday about Google Chrome, my reaction was dismissive. I warmed up slightly to some of the technical implementation, and am now fully thawed after some brief use. Regardless of origin, it is promising, and its design philosophy incrementally laudable. With WebKit in tow, the Chrome team can focus on its specific implementation of a great browser.

That said, I’m looking forward to seeing what will become of this on Mac OS X. Getting rid of menus doesn’t work so well here because of the big bar reserved for them; hopefully, this will be resolved by restoring the menus and keeping the rest of the slim UI. OmniWeb, my current browser is my default browser for a reason — in stand-by, it offers only a title bar, a status bar and a tab drawer. I hit a command (or open a new tab) to enter a new URL or search query, and the menus sit in their designated location. This is a game that’s already being played.