A Few Days With Google Chrome

Google Chrome

Recently more than one web developing friend told me that they had switched from Firefox to Google Chrome for their everyday browsing and work needs. That’s saying a lot because Firefox has some great development add-ons, and because web devs know their browsers. I was curious, and since I was recently into analyzing my browser, I thought I’d give Chrome on OS X a shot.

Google Chrome is the result of the open source project Chromium. It’s the first multi-threaded browser and, being the new kid on the browser block, it has been able to capitalize on the experience of its competition. That last point shows in the Chrome’s slick interface and usability. Here is what I noticed shortly after install:

  • It starts fast. Click the Chrome icon and boom, it opens.
  • It renders fast. Pages come up lightning quick just like in Safari and other webkit browsers.
  • The “new tab” page nicely lays out your bookmarks toolbar, thumbnails of recently browsed locations, a list of recently closed tabs, and easy access to full history.
  • Address bar is also your search bar. This is similar to Firefox’s “Awesome Bar” but instead gives you search results.
  • New tabs tear out AND can be pushed back in.
  • Downloads, plugins, and history are easily managed through pages rendered in the browser. This just makes sense.
  • “View source” opens in a new tab and has line numbers.
  • Same webkit development tools that you find in Safari.
  • Nice task manager for viewing Chrome’s, and other browsers’, memory usage
  • Each tab runs in its own thread. When you close a tab the thread dies and its resources are freed up. If a page in a tab misbehaves the tab may die but the whole browser won’t crash.

Because of Chrome’s multi-threaded nature it is difficult to get an accurate measurement of how much RAM the whole browser is really using. However, casual profiling using OS X’s Activity Monitor, and Chrome’s monitoring tools (In Chrome: View -> Developer -> Task Manager -> Stats for nerds), suggests to me that Chrome uses about the same amount of RAM as a tweaked-out Firefox (300-350MB). Maybe a little more. And that’s with just a few tabs of plain ol’ web pages open. No Flash and no audio streaming. Throw either of those in the mix, and/or open a lot (10+) tabs, and memory usage spikes fast leading to poor performance.

So there are some memory issues with Chrome. Under light usage it acts mature and stable, but once you pile on tasks the browser loses its footing. Since I run a lot of big apps simultaneously everyday, a browser always one of them, memory is precious to me. Those issues alone are enough to keep me away from using Chrome full-time. Other no-go factors include the not so-smooth-transition from page to page and the fact that Chrome still has a small user base. As a web developer I need to build my sites in a browser that most people use, and on a Mac that means Firefox.

Chrome usage is rising fast. In time I’m sure all if its current downsides will disappear. Google will fix its memory problems and page transitions because users will complain of side-effects. Average users will adopt Chrome and web devs will become comfortable using it full-time. Until that happens, however, Chrome will be just one more browser that I need to test our sites with.

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