First Impressions: Google's Chrome

Today, as has been all over the news, including the NY TImes, Google announced, and released the first Beta of their new Open Source Browser, Chrome. Not only that, but they released a 36-page comic book about what they’re trying to do with Chrome, which frankly I thought was worth reading. In fact, I read the entire thing before I downloaded the new browser.

What Google is trying to do here is admirable, they’re trying to reinvent the way we interface with the web, and they’re doing it in the Open, with a license that can benefit proprietary browsers, and they’ve done it with that undeniable Open Source demand to “Show Us the Code!” Admittedly, Google is only distributing packages for Windows at this moment, but the browser will build on Linux and Mac OS X (it may not work 100% yet, though), and work is underway to fully support those platforms.

But, having installed Chrome on my Vista box at work, I’m impressed. My primary desire was to make sure that the WSU Catalog which I published last week still works. And it does, and my god is it fast. I mean, it was pretty fast before, but the data feels like it’s rendered the instant it comes off the wire, and the DOM manipulation that I do is nearly instantaneous, in fact, I might refactor a few things now that I’ve actually used a browser with a fast JavaScript engine. And really, it’s largely V8 that’s so impressive. I’ve never used a JavaScript engine this fast, and luckily it’s BSD license means that we finally have a solid JavaScript engine which could potentially become the JavaScript engine used by all the major browsers.

Not to say that the work on SpiderMonkey and the work WebKit has done isn’t good, but V8 appears to be a clear winner in the JavaScript performance game. Plus, the security model, where every tab is it’s own process, has clear benefits. I’ve got a problem on my Vista box where Firefox crashes any time it tries to initialize the latest Beta of Silverlight. This is particularly problematic as I’m working on a project with a Silverlight UI right now, but luckily it works in IE. No idea what’s wrong with Firefox. The great part is, that even if such a problem existed with Chrome, only the tab which faulted would crash, not the whole damn browser. Fantastic.

Is Chrome going to replace my Firefox usage? Probably not. I’m a heavy extensions user, and I’m not sure I could survive without my Firebug, Foxmarks, and Greasemonkey. And even my wife uses Greasemonkey for a few sites that are considerably harder to use without the bit of JavaScript code I use Greasemonkey to inject. So, what I want is a version of Firefox that uses V8, and has process-level disconnects between tabs.

Oh, and the ability to drag a tab between windows. That feature is awesome.

Chrome is impressive, and I’d suggest checking it out. For many users, it’s likely the better browser. And I really hope that the Firefox people take notice and integrate the good parts of Chrome in with their extension framework. Frankly, I don’t even care about the whole WebKit vs Gecko debate, they’re practically interchangeable in my mind. But there is no competing with V8.