A First Look at Google Chrome

by Alex Levinson (Dec, 2009)

Google recently released the Mac beta of Chrome – Google’s attempt to penetrate a well-saturated web browser space. It long follows the original Windows beta, released in September 2008. As with Safari, Chrome runs on a WebKit engine claimed to “quickly and accurately” render pages. The Google software differs by offering a minimalist layout design, pushing tabs to the top of the browser, while using a single window - an “Omnibox” that combines search and URL fields into a single bar.

Google makes three fundamental claims about Chrome:

  • Fast start-up - Google Chrome launches in a snap.
  • Fast loading - Google Chrome loads web pages quickly.
  • Fast search - Search the web right from the address bar.

Chrome runs the individual tabs in own execution environment promising to isolate crashes and freezes so they do not affect the browser as a whole. The browser lastly copies Opera's favorites display when opening a new tab, showing a selection of a person's most commonly visited websites. Chrome is a free 18.5MB download, and runs on Intel Macs (no PPC) with Mac OS X 10.5 or later.

Ordinarily, a beta release of yet another browser would not register much of my interest but Chrome is different because it is a foundation of Google’s Chrome OS – an attempt to re-think what operating systems should be. Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks. Google promises to open-source its code later in 2010, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS should be available for consumers in the second half of 2010. The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome would be running within a new simplified windowing system on top of a Linux kernel promising to free us from the marketing cabal of both Apple and Microsoft. Interesting...

I tested Chrome in three different environments:

  • A rather poky Mac Mini Core Solo 1.5GHz T1300 CPU with 2GB of memory running Snow Leopard 10.6.2 and 802.11b connection to an Apple Wireless Base/Router on a residential Comcast Internet service.
  • Ubuntu 9.10 running on a Gigabyte GA-EP45-UD3P mobo with Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 Wolfdale 3.0GHz 6MB L2 Cache Dual-Core Processor, 4GB of DDR2-1066 memory and Gigabit Ethernet LAN on a residential Comcast Internet Service.
  • LM Company Dell Latitude D630 laptop, XP SP3, Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 CPU @ 2.2 GHz, 2.0 GB of RAM on the wired 100Base-T LMI.

On a head-to-head comparison with Mozilla Firefox 3.5.5 on the Mac Mini, Chrome loads in 2 to 3 bounces while Firefox loads in 5-8 bounces. Web page rendering is indeed crisp and snappy but is quite clear that the network and the web page server performances largely dominate it. None of the web pages I tried caused a crash so the claim of enhanced stability could not be verified. On the whole, Chrome performance was quite comparable to that of Firefox on both the Mac Mini and a high-end gaming machine running Ubuntu.

On the company laptop, Chrome ran circles around Microsoft IE 7.0. In the LM environment however, it was quite obvious that it was still a beta - quite a few of the LMPeople and Passport pages did not render correctly and its interaction with the LM authentication service did not function cleanly.

In conclusion, I’m not quite ready yet to switch to Chrome as my main browser. I really liked the Omnibox feature and its rendering speed. On the other hand, it is Intel CPU only and my not so old yet 2.0 GHz dual-processor G5 is getting more and more obsolete. Too bad… Since it is only a beta, I give it no mice rating but it is definitely a browser with a lot of promise. As far as Google against Apple and Microsoft, bring it on!