On Google Chrome (Mac, Linux, and nightly builds)

On Google Chrome

As you may have heard, Google is working on a web browser called Chrome. There have been beta versions out for Windows and Linux for some time. The Mac version is still playing catch-up. Because Firefox, the browser I now use, has appeared to get more slow and clunky over time, I figured I would give Chrome a try. My main gripes with Firefox (on the Mac) are the speed, the startup/shutdown time, and the way it keeps eating up memory such that I have to restart it once a day (and consequently wait for it to shut down, then start up again).

I started looking at the Mac version, but (at the time) it was a joke. There were no add-ons and no way to manage your bookmarks. You could bookmark all you wanted, and those links would show up in the menus, but if you ever wanted to edit, move, or remove bookmarks, there was no way to do so. Because I had similar performance issues with my Linux computer at work, I tried forcing myself to use it full-time there, first, because the Linux version was much more feature-complete.

Honestly, I have not looked back. In Linux (and presumably Windows), it’s solid enough and fast enough that I find it a better experience than Firefox. It took me a little while to get the right mix of extensions, but this is what I’ve added to my Chrome installation:

  • AdSweep for ad blocking. I’m not convinced that this is the best ad blocker out there, as I have not looked at any others yet. All I know is that this was one of the first ad blockers for Chrome and that it performs well enough that I have not needed to look for alternatives.
  • FlashBlock is a click-to-play Flash blocker similar to the one I use under Firefox. This prevents, for instance, YouTube videos and embedded music from auto-starting until I click on them.
  • Google Mail Checker for showing how many email messages I have waiting in my inbox. I only use this under Linux. On the Mac, I have Google Notifier, which better integrates with the operating system (complete with Growl notification).
  • Google Reader Notifier is the same as above, but for Google Reader instead of Gmail.
  • Xmarks Bookmark Sync ensures that all of my bookmarks across all of my computers are synchronized: the Linux box at work, the Mac laptop I shuttle between home and work, the Mac server at home, and the iPhone.  The extension itself is a little bit prone to crashing on Chrome, but does not lose or mangle data, and otherwise works fine.
  • Amazon2Powells adds a link to pages on Amazon to the corresponding product at Powell’s. It lets me browse Amazon, hop on the bus, then buy locally.
  • A modification of Google Reader Minimalistic (based on the original at UserScripts) that tweaks the fonts and layout on Google Reader a little more to my liking than the original version.

I have been happy with Chrome on Linux for about three weeks now. I have been using a nightly Chrome build on the Mac for about two weeks and have been happy with that. In the intervening time, Google release a new developer preview of the Mac (adding extension support), but I am sticking with the nightly build for the following reasons:

  • Although extensions are in both the developer preview and nightly snapshot, bookmark editing is not. Only the nightly has the Bookmark Manager menu item enabled.
  • The tab-to-search automatic locating and using of search forms is unavailable in the developer preview, but works in the nightly. In Firefox, I had a special bookmark set up (basically the Amazon search URL with “%s” in place of the search string, with the keyword “ama”) that let me type in “ama cheese” to find cheese on Amazon. With Chrome, after I have searched Amazon once, it remembers. All I need to do is type in “ama[TAB]cheese” to do the same thing with no previous special setup.

Oddly enough, one thing I’m missing on Mac Chrome (and I feel weird for even saying this) is Java. In Firefox, I disable Java. I greatly dislike Java-in-the-browser. As I mentioned before, I use a lightweight note-taking application called TiddlyWiki. It is, effectively, a self-modifying HTML file. In Firefox, it uses some fancy JavaScript (after asking the user for permission, of course) to write the file back to disk after modifications. Under other browsers (Safari, Opera, and Chrome), it uses some Java Applet trickery to do the same thing, since those browsers do not have the option to bust out of the JavaScript “sandbox” and write to disk without a bit of Java-assist. The practical upshot is that I cannot currently use TiddlyWiki on the Mac version of Chrome because it blocks JavaScript file writes and doesn’t support Java Applet file writes. This isn’t a huge deal-breaker at present — I open Firefox to edit notes — but is an annoyance that I hope will be fixed before I’d consider Chrome a complete product. And it works under Linux, so I doubt it is an intentional oversight.

Overall, I would score Chrome as such:

  • Chrome under Linux: A-
  • Chrome developer-preview on Mac: D+
  • Chrome nightly (4.0.291.0, 35604) on Mac: B
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Brian Enigma

Brian Enigma is a Portlander, manipulator of atoms & bits, minor-league blogger, and all-around great guy. He typically writes about the interesting “maker” projects he's working on, but sometimes veers off into puzzles, software, games, local news, and current events.

3 thoughts on “On Google Chrome (Mac, Linux, and nightly builds)”

  1. I also recently switched from Firefox to Chrome. Firefox has never run very well for me on Linux. I was blaming it on flash which i’m sure you know is pathetic on linux, but even after running flashblock, chrome runs circles around it.

    I did a sunspider benchmark on Chrome vs Firefox on my system and Chrome scored 3.5x what Firefox did.

    heh… I remember when I started using k-meleon a gecko browser that basically broke out of the mozilla bloatbox and forced the development of phoenix and therefore firefox.

    Competition is good, and I think chrome will overtake firefox if they don’t get their act together.

    1. I did note that Firefox has a new (beta?) version out as of a day or two ago, but have not looked at it yet. I am doubtful that it will be that big of an improvement. I suspect that WebKit-based browsers (be it Safari, Chrome, iPhone, Android, or any number of other cellphones/netbooks/tablets) are really going to take over in the next year or two. That is especially true *if* (and that’s a pretty big if) Chrome OS takes off as a contender in the netbook space. I have high hopes for Chrome, but fear it is not going to get the market share Google expects.

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