Wednesday, January 13, 2010

They Built a Better Browser and Its Name Is Chrome

First, a tech tidbit: Hop over to  to see the most popular Netflix rental movies in your zip code.

The mouse is gone! The mouse is gone! Not only are we no longer having our Perugina chocolates stolen (the mouse was taking the chocolates and shredding the silver wrappers), but now we have physical verification that the human-powered search service, Aardvark,, was right. While it's low-tech, I'll mention the brand of the humane catch mouse trap that finally succeeded, after the first three had either not interested the mouse or proved too easy to escape from: the J.T. Eaton Multiple Catch MouseTrap, .

Since they've built a better mouse trap (the world may not have come knocking, but I certainly did), I was wondering, could they build a better web browser? I've been using Firefox for so long and I thought to myself, "Have I gotten into a Firefox rut? What about all those other web browsers out there?" What about Google Chrome?

So I gave Google Chrome a whirl. And you know what? Just as when I switched from Internet Explorer to Firefox, abandoning Internet Explorer like a caterpillar shedding its cocoon, I can't go back to using Firefox. Sure, Firefox is faster, safer, more customizable and easier to use than Internet Explorer. But I now feel the same way when I compare Google Chrome to Firefox. Google Chrome is noticeably faster than Firefox, both when it comes to loading pages and starting the program. There were times when I'd start up Firefox and it took so long to load that I thought that I hadn't clicked on Firefox properly, and I opened the program again, ending up with two versions of Firefox running.

What was holding me back from trying Chrome in any serious way was the lack of extensions. It's Firefox's extensions that made it the most advanced browser. There's an add-on for everything: removing advertisements from web sites, deleting tracking cookies, getting email notification, downloading non-downloadable videos, instant web page translation from almost any language into English, automatically reloading a web page at pre-defined intervals, displaying a flag to show you what country hosts the website you're viewing, controlling iTunes from within the browser -- almost any customization you could want. Now Google Chrome has extensions. Now I love Google Chrome, too. (Extensions are currently available on the beta version of Google Chrome, which you can download here:

Unlike Firefox, you don't have to restart Chrome whenever you install or uninstall an add-on. I don't know about other Firefox users, but I found it to be a royal pain to have to restart Firefox every time I added an extension.

Google Chrome has an innovative feature that Firefox doesn't have (yet): If a web page is messed up (that's a technical term) and crashes, it won't crash your whole browser. Each tab is a separate process. No more accidentally clicking on a PDF and waiting a few hours for the PDF to open and your browser to be useable again. (Okay, that is a slight exaggeration -- PDFs only take 20 minutes on average to open.)

The search bar is also the address bar in Chrome, freeing up valuable screen space. But the address bar is also intuitive, or super smart, or has ESP or something like that. You don't have to remember websites' URLs -- just type in what you're looking for. So instead of typing , you can get away with "google chrome extensions" -- easier to remember. Google calls this box that does it all the "omnibox." Thanks to the omnibox and Google's minimalist philosophy, with Chrome you have more space in which to view web pages.

Chrome doesn't have nearly as many add-ons as Firefox, so if you have a favorite Firefox extension, it may not be available (yet) for Chrome. Chrome's extensions don't seem to slow down the browser the way that Firefox extensions do.

Chrome and Firefox aren't the only browsers in town, and another browser might suit your liking more. There are still a lot of people who use Internet Explorer, which comes with every Windows PC. Go figure. Opera, , and Apple's Safari, , get high marks. There are also specialized browsers such as Flock, , which is designed for social networking, and Browzar, , a nimble, lightweight browser that deletes all web-related history when you close it. Browzar is great for surfing the net on somebody else's computer: Download the 222k file and use Browzar instead of whatever they have installed. K-Meleon, , is a fast, lightweight open source browser; Slimbrowser, , is another fast, low-memory browser.

Browsers are easy to install and use. Try and use several. No one browser does everything best.

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