Dane. Designer.

Old Blog

Google Chrome

What a move! I’m not only surprised, but possibly even converted. Though, there will of course be no Chrome love for us OS X folk for a while yet.

For the past year or so I’ve been using Safari fulltime on OS X and Firefox on Windows, and quite honestly I loved every minute of it. Safari is fast, compliant++CSS rounded corners, CSS box and text shadows, CSS animations and transforms and lots of other great stuff that on the one hand isn’t 100% compliant, but on the other fails elegantly and doesn’t kill kittens. and even better, it’s visually neutral, leaving me to do my surfing, and Safari to do its safari-ing. Firefox is good, but, and I will be chastised for this undoubtedly, compared to Safari, I dare say development moves slow and for every release it gets less and less sexy. It’s making progress, but it still doesn’t feel like a native OS X app.

Now it’s true that many of the things Google were touting as ‘new’ have in fact been around for a while in the browser-market, and them pitching on-top tabs, the omnibar and privacy browsing (for buying presents apparently…) comes off a bit: “Ehm, have you seen these other browsers?”. But despite that, Google deserves a lot of credit for what they’ve done. Having all the money in the known world, doesn’t make a new browser a done deal.

Ask Steve Ballmer, he’ll shout it to you in one-word sentences.

And not only have they overcome whatever byzantine tar-hole IE is stuck in, but their first beta both feels like it is right on the cusp of being production-ready and is actually better in some areas than all the other browsers out there already! A remarkable feat, especially given that Microsoft is on their eight try, and they get worse and worse at it. Hell, even Apple’s attempt at porting Safari feels half-hearted. Though, fair enough, let’s wait and see what happens with Chrome on OS X before we pass final judgement on that account.

I know you haven’t been able to wade through your feed reader for the past few days without reading about Chrome and Palin (what happened there!?), but I’m going to have a closer look with or without you, so…

First up, putting the tabs up top is something Opera has already done; but if we can all just look each other in the eyes, I think the consensus will be that for whatever reasons, Opera simply isn’t a particularly desirable browser. Luckily Chrome, despite bearing a—admittedly slightly remote—semblance to their usual Jakob Nielsen-esque interface aesthetics, has clean enough lines to not make a mess of itself and is also neutral enough in its colors and icon-design to not stand out like a [something ridiculous] at a [oddball convention].

This was not the work of the person resonsible for Google Video#, let me tell you.

In fact, their logo is the most garish thing in the whole package, having been compared many times over to a Pokémon ball; and rightly so I might add. Why they couldn’t just give us a globe of some sort, I’ll never know. But when I’m getting Chrome on OS X, I’m changing that icon so fast it’ll make my head spin.

There has been some complaints that the contents of the <title> tag is getting a little screwed by the tab-treatment, but considering the alternatives—having the title of the current page appear in full at the top of the window or widen the tabs either in full or IE-style, neither of which are worth having—I think it’s a good compromise. Any anyway, most website titles are too long as it is and should make better use of the space as it isThe homepage of The New York Times has ‘The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia’. It’s the New York Times, everyone in the world knows what it’s about, why not simply have ‘The New York Times’?. The tabs are otherwise unambiguous and like Safari’s can be rearranged and split into new separate windows, a feature I’ve grown to love in Safari and truly miss in Firefox. It’ll be interesting to see how they’ll solve the fact that enough tabs makes them tiny and thus indistinguishable from one another, something which neither Firefox, nor Safari have solved in a truly satisfying way. But maybe there is none. If nothing else, I wouldn’t mind it if it would allow all tabs in all windows to be exposé‘d on OS X; that would significantly speed up my own process anyway.

The icons on the toolbar are comfortingly low-key and gender-neutral, bordering on elegant even. In fact, it is wonderful how the ‘home’ icon seems to be a bygone thing these days. I’ve always found the ‘home page to be pretty useless anyway. The star is nice; I would probably have preferred a plus-sign though. I know ‘star’ has been the icon for ‘favorites’ since Windows 95 or some such, but it just never hit home with me. Safari’s + says ‘add’, what does ‘star’ say?

The address bar, or the omnibar as it is called, highlights the domain, which as someone pointed out works as a mini-anti-phishing feature of sorts, so as to make paypal.gimmetehcash.com stand out to passing eyes. But even better—in stark opposition to Firefox 3’s ‘awesomebar’—it reads really well! Try the two side by side for a moment, and see for yourself just how much difference a little attention to colors and layout can make for usability. At the time of writing this, I can’t say for sure whether it actually works better, or if the cosmetics are making all the difference.

But I applaud them having thrown out the search box. It’s about time someone did this! Aside from Safari (come on!), all browsers search for what you write in the addressbar anyway. Getting rid of it is a favor to everyone.

I wouldn’t mind seeing some cleanup in the two dropdown menus on the right of the omnibar, not only in their structure, but in the settings windows as well. Try finding the ‘change language’ settings; it’s considerably harder than it ought to be, especially when you only have two dropdowns to deal with. On OS X, I hope they move them into the OS menubar.

Like with Safari, I run Chrome without the bookmarks bar visible—I like my window as clean as possible. However, the trick with Safari, is that ?-1 through ?-9, will launch the bookmark in the position corresponding to that number, from the left in the bookmark bar, not counting folders (in Firefox, this selects the corresponding tab instead).

I have become addicted to this behavior.

I’ve got my mail, feed reader, calendar, this site and the Tumblr bookmarklet (for Heilemannr) all programmed into my muscle memory, and I use it constantly. Where some of my friends have announced that they are unable to switch until Adblock comes to Chrome (First of all: Bah! Secondly, an API is coming according to Google), this is probably what I’ll miss the most.

With Chrome’s ‘home’ page being your bookmarks, your most visited pages and some other stuff I’ll never use, this isn’t quite as catastrophic as it could have been, and if nothing else, the bookmarks bar is dis- and enabled with CTRL-B, which is fairly easy to live with.

And finally, the status bar isn’t. Finally. I’ve wanted this from Safari for ages. After all, I don’t want to be without my status bar, so I can see what’s going on. But on the other hand, it takes up valuable vertical space, even when it isn’t in use.

I don’t know much about webkit, other than the fact that it powers Safari (and others), but as far as I’m concerned, Safari has been leading the rendering race for some time now, and Chrome adopting webkit can only be a good thing. At the end of the day, I’m just happy that they’re beating the crap out of Microsoft, who really need the wake-up call, and they’re doing it while wanting to cooperate with the other browser-makers (or at least saying so for now), which is an indication that we might be able to not having to spend the next decade in yet another meaningless browser war.

As for the interface, I think I’m in love.

It’s simple, intuitive and free of needless frills, which is exactly what I want from my browser. And it’s really quite an accomplishment to lure me away from my beloved Safari, but Chrome has a good chance of doing just that. And this is the first beta.

The first beta!

Now there’s just the fact that Google not only hosts my mail, my feeds, my calendar, some of my videos, my search history and a load of other things, but now it’ll basically have access to my everything I do online?

Hmmm.

But then, when they already have access to all of the above things, it can’t get much worse, can it?

That’s the spirit.