Friday, December 11, 2009

What About Google Chrome?

You may have noticed that Google is pushing very strongly its browser, Google Chrome.  I think almost everybody understands Google's business model - they are not an Internet search company, they are an advertising company.  They make money by charging their customers to place ads, and they cleverly come up with inventive ways to do so (free e-mail, Google Maps, Google Earth, etc.).  My question on the business side is, how does Google make money off of Chrome?  I don't think they do.

So, I have been using both the Beta and Release versions of Google Chrome for over a year now.  Or, rather, I should say I had been using them.  If you were ever wondering, "Should I switch?" I will give you my answer.

What Is A Browser?

A long time ago (circa early 1960's), in a galaxy far, far away (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA), the Internet was invented (originally called DARPAnet - and who says the government doesn't do anything useful?).  Back then, the Internet was only for geeks and hacks.  There was e-mail, but no one except a few hundred people on the planet knew what e-mail was.  In order to connect to something, like NASA for example, you had to know their IP address.  And know UNIX.  (Yeah, I downloaded a lot of cool JPeg pictures from NASA in the 1980's.)  Then, you could connect - and do what?  Download files.  Communicate in "bulletin boards" called Newsgroups.  That's about it.

Nowadays, it seems second nature.  But, sometime in the late 1980's and early 1990's, a group of super-geeks invented HTML and the World Wide Web.  In 1991 or 1992, when I first heard of it, my friend said, "You've GOT to see the World Wide Web.  HTML - hyperlinks, embedded pictures - it's so cool!"  We were mesmerized, by the fact that you could read documentation on software, and actually click to cross-reference a word.  Cool!

Of course, today the Web (so-called because it is a complex web of interlinked and cross-linked documents and resources) is almost synonymous with the Internet.

A Browser, simply put, is the software that allows you to view this Web content of the Internet.  Its basis is HTML, which is a formatting language developed to lay out textual documents with graphical components, but so much more has been built upon it.  So, what's all this big deal about Browsers?

Back in the old days, there was only one - Mozilla (the original one developed back in the 1980's).  This has morphed into the product now called Firefox.  Eventually when the Internet took off (primarily because of the Web), Microsoft took note, and in 1995 included a browser with Windows called Internet Explorer.  Now, there are a bunch of browsers out there.  However, these 2 browsers really dominate the market, with a new contender that has grown very fast.  The new contender?  Google Chrome.

What Browsers Are Out There?

For a good review of browsers, see
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer, or "IE" is the default with
    Windows, currently on version 8
  • Mozilla Firefox, currently on version 3.5
  • Google Chrome, currently on version 4.0
  • Opera, currently on version 10.0
    • Not talked about in this article, it is blazing fast and its innovation is mouse gestures as shortcuts for the common browser buttons; however, it seriously lacks compatibility with many web sites
  • Apple Safari, currently on version 4
    • Not talked about in this article, it performs very nicely on Mac and PC, about the same as Chrome and Firefox
  • ...and a bunch of small, relatively unknown browsers I have not evaluated nor heard of before I did research for this article:
    • Flock
    • Maxthon
    • Avant
    • Deepnet Explorer
    • Phaseout

What's So Unique About Google Chrome?

So, what's the big deal?  As the years have gone by, IE has become Bloatware - that is, so huge and bloated, that it is both unstable (it crashes a lot - and always has, ever since version 2.0 / Windows 95), and it is a slow and ungainly application.  It is huge!  The latest invocation, Version 8, requires lots of RAM and a fast computer, otherwise you are really waiting a lot.  Google Chrome is minimalist. There is only one field for entry - for URL's (the address you want to go to), as well as for searches.  You have the tab bar, menus, toolbar, and that's it - the rest of the screen is devoted solely to browsing.  Behind the scenes, it is small, lean, and fast.  Of course, browsers nowadays have to be free to compete - no one will pay for a browser.  Chrome gives you speedy performance, but at a cost, of course - albeit not a direct monetary cost.

Another really nice feature, is Incognito Mode.  You can run Chrome in Incognito, and this will prevent cookies from web sites being saved to your system.  It helps if you are browsing dangerous web sites, to protect your computer from damage by them.  However, it is not a catch-all for these issues.  Your computer's address is still known to the server you connect with, and you can still download and install executables.

What Are The Problems With It And Internet Explorer?

First, what are the problems with Internet Explorer, or simply "IE"?  Heck, it comes preinstalled with Windows, so why would anyone switch?  Believe it or not, not everyone who has a computer has Windows.  There are a ton of UNIX, Linux, and Mac users out there.  I hear a few of them even use Internet Explorer - perhaps it behaves better on UNIX-based machines, I haven't yet found out.  As mentioned above, IE is Bloatware (with a capital B).  It takes up a ton of memory, it takes a long time to load - especially if you have Plug-Ins (add-ons that add functionality to IE), and because it has so many features, it loads pages and displays them much slower than its competition.  And, there is a lot of competition.

So, what's wrong with the top browser, and what's wrong with Chrome?

  • IE
    • Bloated, slow, and unstable.  In a Wisconsin Public Radio show earlier this year, I heard that the 2 most unstable software in the computing industry (most crashes) are IE and Windows Explorer (the core component of Windows).  I can vouch for that by firsthand experience.
    • User Interface has become, well, not so great.  I used to say Microsoft is the king of user interfaces, making their software intuitive.  However, they have fallen, to the folks at Google and Apple.
    • Resource hog - it grabs lots of memory, and generally slows down the entire computer while using it.
    • The plus side?  It is compatible with all the web sites out there.
  • Chrome
    • Compatibility - there are quite a few web sites, some of them very important for my work, that do not function correctly with Chrome
    • Lack of plug-ins - there are many excellent add-ons you can get for Firefox and IE, that are just like Apps for the iPhone.  They make the whole user experience.  They are just coming on line for Chrome, and very limited.
    • No Google Toolbar - yes, the one completely addictive gadget Google has come out with in the past few years, Google Toolbar, doesn't work with Chrome.  This really bites.
    • Up until the end of October, 2009, another problem with Chrome is no Mac version; however, they now have one, so take that one off the list.

Should I Switch?

Obviously, only you can decide.  For me, there is one overriding, all-important feature - Compatibility.  If the web sites I frequent don't work correctly on the browser, I can't use it.  Chrome falls into this category.  For me, it really bites.  Yes, it is fast - but Opera is faster.  Firefox is just as fast - and has the compatibility with probably 99% of the web sites, and an IE plugin that covers web sites that it don't work with.  Second most important, is speed - Firefox, Chrome, and Opera all have that.  So, I use Firefox every day.

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