Review: The first Google Chrome beta

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Google is already a dominant force in search and cloud services. So its touchdown on the world's desktops yesterday points to a possible change in the way casual to moderate Internet users will interact with their computers.

Nearly 24 hours after my first dive into the realm of Google Chrome, I am not only using it in place of my former default Firefox, but I've also found a renewed and deeper interest in Google's other services.

I attribute this to Chrome's overpowering "Googleness." Though most similar to Apple's Safari in design, it bears an even greater resemblance to Google's main search page in its dearth of text. It makes using the company's services like Blogger, Orkut, and Gmail seem logical, as they share the ethic. Furthermore, by integrating Google's search engine into the address bar -- they're calling it "the Omnibox" -- the otherwise simple process of navigating to another search page now appears tedious by comparison.

Culling results from Zeitgeist and presenting them in a list, like the recently unveiled Search Suggest on Google's home page, the Omnibox has partially eroded my instinctual typing of "www" (which I frequently find myself entering in search query fields). Entering a single letter will pull up recently viewed sites beginning with that letter, along with the most popular sites and search terms that share this initial letter.

Chrome has single-handedly turned me into a Google services user.


A comparison of the three browsers' toolbars: Google Chrome Beta, Mozilla Firefox 3, Microsoft Internet Explorer 7. [Click on the screenshot for full-size.]

So the interface is simple and tabbed. Chrome's tabs are treated as unique instances and if one should crash, the rest of the browser is supposed to remain unaffected. Security sites which attempt to crash browsers on purpose, however, failed to bring Chrome down in BetaNews tests.

Chrome's performance on these tests started to make me rethink its "beta" classification. Perhaps it's a beta in the same way that Gmail is still a beta after so long.

There has been talk this afternoon of a Denial of Service proof of concept that can crash Chrome on all its tabs on Windows XP SP3.

According to EvilFingers: "An issue exists in how chrome behaves with undefined-handlers in chrome.dll version 0.2.149.27. A crash can result without user interaction. When a user is made to visit a malicious link, which has an undefined handler followed by a 'special' character, the chrome crashes with a Google Chrome message window "Whoa! Google Chrome has crashed. Restart now?". It crashes on "int 3" at 0x01002FF3 as an exception/trap, followed by "POP EBP" instruction when pointed out by the EIP register at 0x01002FF4."

Such behavior has been linked to the Webkit rendering engine, which was found to vulnerable to exploits through Apple's Safari for Windows browser. Those Safari exploits have since been patched by Apple, though the version of Webkit used in Chrome may not be similarly patched.


Getting Microsoft Silverlight installed (hopefully) in Google Chrome. [Click on the screenshot for full-size.]

Short of testing this, we found Chrome was not without its foibles in many smaller respects. When installed on a fresh XP SP2 virtual machine, Chrome was not immediately able to play back YouTube videos. After installing the newest Adobe Flash player, there was still no playback. Then Java was updated and there were yet no results. It is worth noting that all of these plugin problems were not present in a Vista install, and Flash content was immediately available. Microsoft's Silverlight plug-in, however, is not supported yet.

On a separate XP SP3 VM, however, where the latest Flash player had already been installed beforehand, we noticed no similar problems. This could be an operating system issue, or an issue with recognition of pre-installed codecs.

Though Chrome returns most Web sites noticeably quickly, it was never able to pass the Acid3 test with flying colors. It's notably better than Firefox 3 and IE7, though in BetaNews tests, it took Chrome about 90 seconds to get as far as 77%. (Opera 3, which does score better than chrome, still only ekes out an 83% in BetaNews tests.)

Thanks to its small footprint, unique browsing experience, and open source code, it would appear the ideal place for Chrome is on a netbook, where Web-based services are the most useful. It is quite unfortunate, therefore, that it does not yet support Linux.


Playing a Hulu video through Google Chrome. [Click on the screenshot for full-size.]


FOR MORE:

  • Google's Chrome is gaining users, especially in the wee hours by Jacqueline Emigh
  • The Google Chrome EULA debacle: Whose content is it, anyway? by Scott Fulton
  • Analysis: How is Chrome tied to Android? by Jacqueline Emigh
  • Chrome's objective: to speed up the Web for Google by Scott Fulton
  • Google Chrome takes more than just inspiration from Mozilla by Scott Fulton

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