PRODUCT REVIEW

Google’s Chrome Could Use a Good Spit-Shine

Normally, when Google releases a new application, I’m right there standing in line to be one of the first to try it.

However, that was not the case with Google’s latest effort, Chrome.

Reports that the Web browser acted as an oversized keylogger through its OmniBox were not reassuring.

In addition, reports that Chrome’s EULA (end-user licensing agreement) gives Google “a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and nonexclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which [users] submit, post, or display on or through the Services (meaning the browser)” really put me off.

As the ensuing brouhaha surrounding both issues indicated, I wasn’t the only one wondering how Google’s new browser squared with the company’s mandate to not be “evil.” However, a Sept. 4 blog post from Google explaining the verbiage in the EULA and a decision to anonymize data collected from the browser’s OmniBox were somewhat reassuring.

Shiny Here and There

So, here I am after putting the browser through its paces, and I have to say that, even if Google’s privacy vows ring true, Chrome is still not as shiny a product as its name might imply.

That’s not to say there’s nothing to like. In terms of performance, the browser stands toe-to-toe with both Firefox 3 and Internet Explorer (IE) 8 beta 2. Tabs open quickly, and whether you have three tabs open or 12, the browser still functions speedily.

The much-discussed OmniBox — Chrome’s address and search bar combo — is actually better than Mozilla Firefox’s Awesome Bar and as good as the address bar in IE 8 beta 2. It was refreshing to be able to type search terms directly into the OmniBox instead of a Google Toolbar search box.

I liked the look of the tabs in Chrome. The tabs sit at the top of the browser instead of just under the toolbars, as in Firefox and IE 8. But I do wish that Google had added some way to discern which tabs are related, as Microsoft has done with its colored tabs in IE 8. Those colored tabs are really snazzy, especially since I regularly have three to nine tabs open at a time while working.

Saving the Day

The Bookmarks bar is very cool — at least, it would be if I could import my Google Bookmarks into the browser. It’s a crazy kind of disconnect, but Google apparently did not build the browser with the ability to automatically import bookmarks from its own bookmarking application. The only clear help Google offers in this regard is a half-hearted workaround that requires manual re-insertion of each individual bookmark. Importing bookmarks from Internet Explorer and Firefox works fine — if only I had saved any bookmarks worth featuring in the Bookmarks bar in either browser.

Chrome handles downloads well. Rather than spawning a new window or dialog box, it tracks downloads at the bottom of the browser in a small display that lists the size and progress of the download. Click on the box and you can decide whether to run the application upon completion of the download or just save it.

Going “Incognito” (the mode that lets people browse Web sites without leaving cookies or Web history behind) is a useful tool, but not something I suspect most people — even porn surfers — will use greatly. I suppose young surfers browsing risque content might use it to cover their tracks from Mom and Dad. In the interest of parental control, then, it might be nice to have a way to disable Incognito, but after a few minutes of poking around, it wasn’t clear that that’s an option.

Overall, Chrome is decent for an initial effort. Hopefully, Google plans to make a few tweaks to the browser before releasing the final version. But until that happens, I’ll probably stick to Firefox and IE 8.

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