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a week with Chrome

by Rob Friesel

I broke down and decided to try out Google’s Chrome browser after having heard so many positive reviews of it.  It’s backed by WebKit—just like Safari, my current favorite—and so if nothing else, I know it has a tried and true and powerful engine going behind the scenes.  That said, I’ve tried out more than a few browsers over the years and almost always wind up “switching back” after a day or two (or at most: a week or two).  With that in mind, I was more than expecting to go “Meh, back to Safari…” by the end of the week.

But at the end of that week, I’m beginning to think that Chrome might stick around for quite some time as my day-to-day browsing1 browser2.

First, what I like:

  1. The tabs. The tabbed browsing experience in Chrome is nearly perfect and without a doubt the best I’ve seen so far.  The tabs in Chrome are “on top”, which Apple tried to do in the Safari 4 beta and failed to execute properly.  What Apple did wrong in the Safari 4 beta was to try to have the tabs merge into and replace the title bar; this is wrong.  From a UI/visual hierarchy perspective, the tabs definitely belong “above” the browser controls and the address bar, etc.—but they are themselves a part of the window and as such you need adequate clearance.  Under Safari 4 beta, the tabs went all the way up to the window edge; Chrome nails it by providing a just-about-right-sized buffer between the tab’s top edge and the window’s top edge—from what I can tell, it’s about ½-⅔ the size of the title bar’s normal height.  So there’s no ambiguity with respect to what you’re going for:  you’re either going for the tab (to rearrange it or do the also well-executed tear-off behavior) or else you’re going for the title bar to move the window around.  To crib a phrase, in the platform’s UI grammar, this is correct3.
  2. The animations. You may call it superfluous if you wish, but this kind of spit-and-polish work can be important in setting one application apart from its peers.  Most of the animations are with the tabs, so I’ll list off a few that I instantly noticed and instantly loved:  the way a tab pops up when you create a new one; the way a tab sinks when you close it; the tear-off animation; the tab rearrangement animations; how the loading circle in the tab goes anti-clockwise and much slower until it gets a server response (and then starts to load).  These are not key features, but they sure make things feel more complete.
  3. Fast. It feels like a very fast browser.  Maybe I’m distracted by the animations, but it seems a little snappier to render pages and to respond to in-browser events.  I’ve read that it’s faster than any other browser; but I’ve also read that Safari has the slightest edge on it.  But then again, I’ve also read that Chrome knows how to use more than one CPU core at a time.
  4. Unobtrusive UI elements. When I first noticed that Chrome didn’t have a status bar across the bottom of the browser window, I went looking for it.  I want this thing to be turned on.  But after using it for a few minutes, I noticed that it didn’t need a status bar because it just displayed status messages on an as needed basis in a little messaging space that was only as big as it needed to be.  (Win!)  And then when I downloaded a file and instead of popping up a “downloads window” it just put a “downloads bar” across the bottom…  Well, I must say I was impressed with that, too.  Unobtrusive, and only as needed.
  5. Additive tabs. If you (like me) tend to open big batches of tabs all at once from a bookmark group in the bookmark bar, you’ll appreciate that Chrome just appends these to the open tabs.  Instead of replacing the ones you have open.  (Safari, I’m looking you direction.)

What I do not like:

  1. The icon. Chrome’s icon blows.  It looks like a Pokémon egg.  Or a half-baked Simon-from-the-future.  If asked to rate the browser icons, it would go something like this:  Shiira, Firefox, Safari, Opera … a whole bunch of other guys … Chrome, and finally Internet Explorer.
  2. I miss my “open in tabs” command. Allow me to rephrase:  I’m annoyed that I need to right-click my bookmark group and click “Open All Bookmarks”.

    Safari just has this at the bottom of the bookmark group.  And I use it a hundred times a day4.
  3. Text fields do not (always) play by the rules. Folks on the Mac that “switched” from Windows machines will probably understand this one right away.  You get used to hitting “home” and “end” to go to the beginning and end of lines (respectively) and then you switch and have to learn that you now press up and down to do the same thing.  And then you get used to it.  And then you start using Chrome and this isn’t the case.  Or at least isn’t always the case.  In the browser’s address bar, up and down are bound explicitly to the history/search results/bookmarks suggestions list that appears.  And within the browser window itself, a text field may play nicely with this convention.  And sometimes it won’t.  And I haven’t figured out the pattern yet.  If there is one.  Which just makes this worse/more frustrating/more annoying.  Perhaps I’m just being hyper-vigilant to it and Safari et al. are the same way.  But I’m not so sure.  [UPDATE 1/12/10: I think this is just a matter of waiting for Chrome to catch up with me and my browsing history and habits.  It does in fact seem to prompt-and-fill-in the same way as Safari.]
  4. Double-clicking the tab bar doesn’t start a new tab. This is a behavior in Safari that I use all the time.  It drives me nuts that this minimizes the Chrome window.  I hate being forced to use the little “+” icon.  [ADDED 1/12/10]

What I’m undecided about:

  1. The auto-completion in the address bar. Perhaps I’m just too used to how Safari auto-completes, but Chrome’s does not sit right with me.  I mentioned this immediately above w/r/t/ how the up and down keys are bound to the suggestion box; but I’m also expecting the address bar to instantly try to auto-complete my typing.  When I type “ama” I’m expecting it to instantly suggest  Chrome does not always seem to do that.  Again:  it’s inconsistent.  Maybe it will learn as I go?
  2. The way you close tabs. To quote the venerable and inscrutable Gruber, “It’s a grammar thing — in the Mac UI grammar, close buttons go on the left.”  But that said, Gruber writes that in response to a thoughtful missive of Chrome’s tab closing behavior by Basil Safwat at The Invisible.  The nutshell version of Safwat’s argument is that putting the tab closure icon on the right allows users to quickly close them with mouse-clicks with minimal mouse movements regardless of if they are closing from left to right or right to left.  I won’t go much further with that because you should really just read the article.  But that said, tabs in a browser are pretty wily and protean beasts by their nature, and while Safwat has some great points about tab praxis, the pedantic part of me wants desperately to reject the closure-on-the-right more/less out-of-hand because it’s a pretty fundamental violation of (there’s that phrase again!) the UI’s grammar.  Could it be that we need a corollary for the “closure on the left” rule?  Does praxis override all else in this case?  Or is there a way to accomplish this same fluidity without violating the placement assumptions?
  1. As opposed to “development” browser. []
  2. Though Camino spent (almost?) a year or so as my day-to-day browser before it got displaced by Safari again.  So, who knows, eh? []
  3. Of course, they put the close button “the wrong side” w/r/t/ this platform’s UI grammar; but we’ll get to that in a bit. []
  4. All right, I am exaggerating.  It’s more like fifty times a day. []

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

43 Responses to a week with Chrome

akatsuki says:

Overall, I think your comments are spot-on. You forgot to mention the critical feature of a non-modal password dialog. When you are trying to remember a password and running through the usual suspects, Safari’s dialog box just sucks.

Chrome doesn’t handle command-option-w to close all tabs but the one you are looking at – it just closes everything – that stinks. The bookmarks manager seems to also be hidden in a right click menu which is just weird.

MacMacken says:

Extensions still suck, however, that’s probably not an issue to Safari users who have never enjoyed officially supported extensions anyway.

Mr Skills says:

Like you, I’ve found that it’s all the nice little UI touches (particularly how the tabs work) that have actually out-Appled Apple to some extent in Chrome.

But the big thing that’s keeping me from switching full-time is that I use Safari’s Top Sites feature every day but the Chrome equivalent is just not as elegant. It does not tell you which sites have been updated, and there is no quick way to show at-a-glance which sites are pinned (you have to hover the mouse over each on individually).

Other than that, a few websites won’t render and I miss Safari’s incredibly elegant in-browser PDF rendering, but those are just beta things that should be fixed soon.

Wil says:

Great comments. Strange to me that you don’t mention what I consider the #1 feature of Chrome: integrated search and address bar. Coming back to Safari is so hard because I have to constantly tab to the search box after I’ve already started entering text in the URL field. This is a great improvement and something Safari should definitely adopt. Why clutter the toolbar with two text entry fields?

John says:

Tried Chrome. Slower than Safari and not as clever as Firefox, which stays my main browser. Biggest irritant for me, it doesn’t do multi-touch. Two-fingered scrolling, three-fingered jumping to the top and bottom of pages. Love it. Miss it. Uninstalling Chrome.

Rod Christiansen says:

Great points! I agree with the tabs on top. I came to really dislike safari’s tabs now because of it’s great implementation on Chrome. They got it first on the beta but failed to make it workable.
Also, autocompletes in safari is a lot better! I can normally just type the first two or three letters and the site I wanna go appears.

I am still on safari because I just love it’s simplicity and the “Top Sites” for me is a killer feature. I use it as a speed dial and all my most visited sites go into it. I can open an window and my mouse points automatically to where I’m going.

Josh says:

I actually dislike how the tabs are implemented. The narrow bar above the tabs drives me crazy. It takes a little bit longer to aim my mouse to drag the window. It makes it feel like more work to move a window and if you accidentally grab a tab instead you pull the tab out of the current window, something you didn’t mean to do.

Zaph says:

I see that Google is of the same mind set as Adobe, they just have to have their company name as the first part of the app name and that sucks.

Hamranhansenhansen says:

I use a Mac and Safari, but Chrome for Mac is so not interesting to me. A few features appeal to me, and as many features don’t. It’s like a remix of a song you love … interesting but it doesn’t replace the original for me. For me Safari is not broken and doesn’t need fixing.

On the other hand, Chrome for Windows, Chrome Frame, and even Chrome OS are 3 of my favorite products because they all fix the biggest problem on the Web which is the 3 hopelessly broken versions of Internet Explorer that Windows users inflict upon our Web servers. As a Web publisher, every user who switches from Internet Explorer to Chrome saves me time and money.

Chrome supports ISO audio video, so even when Firefox users switch to it, it saves me time and money. We need to get on to a standardized Web with HTML5 standard markup and ISO standard media so the Web can stop being such a nerdfest and Web publishing can stop being such a chore.

So Chrome is my favorite browser that I don’t use.

caustic says:

Sorry, but Chrome on OS X is half done and doesn’t clearly do anything that Safari doesn’t do. I really can’t see any reason to use it other than curiosity (which is a good reason). It is very clearly not “better” than Safari on OS X.

I’ve used on Windows for nearly a year, but only because it’s better than Safari on Windows. However, I have to say that recently I’ve stopped using it on Windows, too, because of memory issues with multiple tabs, poor bookmark management, compatibility problems and nasty, endless redirect problems.

I also agree with Zaph — we know who made it, Google (and most of it wasn’t done by you; Chrome is a thin shell around WebKit). You don’t need to splash your name on the title. That’s obnoxious.

David says:

Great write-up. It put into words a lot of what I’m currently experiencing. I’m stuck in limbo between Safari and Chrome at the moment.

A couple of things I miss from Safari:

* Using the keyboard shortcuts to activate bookmarks in the toolbar. Eg: Cmd+1 to activate the first bookmark.
* Lack of support for OSX Services. I really miss Ctrl+Shift+D to bring up the contextual dictionary and also Calculate Services for doing maths (
* Can’t drag bookmarks from the Location bar into bookmark folders in the toolbar. I use this all the time in Safari to put into my “read later” folder.

Just had to get that off my chest. Hopefully a Chrome dev is reading 🙂

Pup says:

Agreed that the leftover title bar is too narrow to grab quickly due to tabs-on-top. Also, I miss the page’s title which both FF and Safari place in that same area.

David says:

Oops. Cmd+Ctrl+D to bring up the dictionary.

Oh and I couldn’t agree more about the application icon. Except I would put it below Internet Explorer. It is probably the worst icon for any high profile application.

What is it supposed to be? Some HAL eye thingy? It’s too 3d to be iconic, and the colours are jarring for some reason. It’s just plain ugly.

Derek Remund says:

One thing I’ve noticed, as a perhaps unintended side effect of Chrome, is that a completely insane power-browser like me can actually run up against the built-in user process count limit in OS X, since you are creating a separate process for each tab. On my 10.5 system I recently ran into this limit, which caused me to be silently unable to do anything else on my system until I closed some tabs. Granted, this is a very unusual case, and that limit can be raised, but I thought it was an interesting edge-case.

Paul says:

No 1password, no Chrome for me. Has anyone heard when Agile is going to release an extension?

found_drama says:

To those of you visiting from Daring Fireball: welcome!

Nice to see so many visitors and so many other observations and opinions on this. I hope to put together some more specific responses to folks in the next couple of hours but in the meantime… Thanks for stopping by!

justcorbly says:

Chrome displays the right cursor bar incorrectly on a number of sites for me, putting it about two inches in from the right edge of the window.

Other than that, it ain’t bad for a beta. Dunno if I’ll eventually switch from Safari, though.

found_drama says:

A few @replies:

RE: extensions (@MacMacken) – I know quite a few folks that swear by their extensions, but for my money and mileage, they usually just wind up as bloat.

RE: top sites landing “page” (@Mr Skills, @Rod Christiansen) – File this one under “time will tell”, for me. I definitely agree that Safari has a more polished-looking “Top Sites” feature and though I have it set as my “home page” (in both browsers, no less), I spend so little time with it that it didn’t even occur to me to go deep on that aspect of the comparison. Color me intrigued though.

RE: integrated search (@Wil) – This is a great point! Perhaps it just felt so natural that I didn’t even think to comment on it? (Or perhaps I was distracted by waiting for it to turn “ama” into “”?)

RE: tabs-on-top nay-sayers (@Josh, @Pup) – I will concede that the narrower title bar results in a narrower target and so there’s more work, more room for erroneous clicks. I feel the need to mull this, but for now I stand by my published assessment.

RE: no Services menu (@David) – I agree that this is obnoxious, and makes it (shall we say) “not a good OS X citizen”. But to that point: (1) I was thrilled when Snow Leopard put Services in the context menu but months later have found that I don’t really use it that much; (2) except for the Dictionary lookups — long live Cmd+Ctrl+D!

Also, absolutely loved this quote @Hamranhansenhansen:

Chrome is my favorite browser that I don’t use.

Nathan DeGruchy says:

Ugh. The only thing that bugs me about Chrome for the mac is that it resizes the window when the download bar appears. I HATE IT when it resizes a window. Shrink the viewable area or something.

Laurent says:

“The icon. Chrome’s icon blows. It looks like a Pokémon egg.”

Everytime I see it I think of Electric Light Orchestra. Search for “ELO” in Google Images and you’ll see what I mean 🙂

tim says:

You underestimate the significance of your #3 dislike, “Text fields do not (always) play by the rules”.

Try setting your keyboard to Hiragana and typing in a text field: you get Latin characters. Yep, it’s impossible to type Japanese in Mac Chrome!

I hadn’t noticed all of the other ways that text fields in Chrome are weird, but it doesn’t surprise me. I don’t know what you do to make that not work (did they implement their own text fields?), but there it is.

Dipika says:

I agree with Basil Safwat. It feels easier to close tabs from the right side and have the close button of the next tab slide under the cursor.

The animations and UI elements ARE really nice in Chrome! Wish that kind of polish could come to Opera (mac). It has some very useful small features that I’m too used to shift

* Cmd-B to copy paste, Shift-X to fast forward to the logical next page in websites
* Turbo mode to help with slow connections
* text and icon pointers for shifting between tabs with Alt-Tab
* Ability to make any search form into a custom search engine
* Full Screen mode

Fabio Romeo says:

Chrome for Mac is just… wrong. It feels like that guy from school who is trying a little too hard to be your friend, but not quite, and you say what the hell, let’s hang up together for a while, but then you get bored and always go back to your old friends.

I’m with Gruber, close is on the left. And Josh and Pup, I also think that the tabs on top sucks, for the same reasons. Also, there’s no way to customize the toolbar, nor a way to add the zoom, downloads and history buttons, and no services which I use daily. I miss the “look up in dictionary” option in the contextual menu too. Oh, I need an extension to use my custom userstyle.css? Safari allows it without any hacks (since there’s no extensions for it).

With so much needed, and since both are webkit browsers, I thought “why bother?”. So I deleted Chrome. Maybe it will get better, but I’m not holding my breath.

outrider says:

I love Chrome and will not go back to Safari or FF–too many problems w/both, e.g., sloooow, buffering for I don’t know why, resized windows…in Chrome, when I ‘open new window’ I get a smaller screen with two rows of windows, some with pages all ready to load, like I have Pandora, Bing (I almost said ‘Bling’), and my iGoogle homepage, which I really like; I could reset this as my homepage and start whatever window–or enter a new url–I want. I also like the iGoogle/Gmail interface, a nice unobtrusive mail manager that is so common-sense…and also like the combo browser/search engine….the icon has a turban-like quality….

Paul says:

> The nutshell version of Safwat’s argument is that putting the tab
> closure icon on the right allows users to quickly close them with
> mouse-clicks with minimal mouse movements regardless of if they
> are closing from left to right or right to left.

This has more to do with Chrome’s delayed resizing of tabs. Having the tab close buttons on the left would still work well on Chrome as long as it does the delayed resizing.

Also as Fabio Romeo notes, there’s a striking lack of customization options for the Mac version of Chrome. For the Linux version, you can pick to use the default blue theme or the system’s GTK theme. Going further the user can also use the system title bar on top instead of Chrome’s tabs-on-top. That’s a high level of system integration, something we unfortunately didn’t see for the Mac version of Chrome with Google’s insistence to put the close tab button to the left.

jhz says:

My perspective is a bit different.
I’m a Firefox user (OS X 10.5), and Safari lacks on the features side for me.
Chrome, so much faster than FF, lacked extensions until recently (I’ve been using now and then the dev version for almost one year now).
Now that Chrome obtains crucial features (via extensions) like session manager, switching from FF ti Chrome became a real possibility.
And then I tried FF 3.6 RC which feels so much faster than 3.5…
I suppose I will continue to use Chrome and Safari from times to times, but it seems FF will remain my main browser for the time being.

tim says:

It’s certainly true that the thin titlebar makes it much slower to grab for moving. A more severe but less frequent problem is that about 1/10 of the time, when you drag a tab (intentionally or not), the tab floats a couple inches to the side of where your mouse pointer is. Sometimes I’m so close to the edge of the screen already, it’s physically impossible for me to put it back right away.

You know, I just realized when writing this that the most common thing I want to do when dragging a tab in Chrome is “cancel this drag”. That’s not exactly glowing praise for its tab implementation. 🙂

And unlike most other drag-n-drops (including Firefox, and Safari but only for out-of-window drags), you can’t just hit Escape to cancel. You actually have to figure out where it was and drag it back. Frustrating!

Grover says:

God bless you for finding the Open All Bookmarks option. I too use the Open in Tabs option a hundred times a day and it’s lack was the primary reason I can’t use Chrome.

Fahrenheit533 says:

My daughter complained that her MBP was running very slow. She downloaded the Beta of Chrome. Checking the Activity Monitor I found a background Chrome helper app was using 1.29 Gb of her 2GB. And Chrome wasn’t even running!

notemily says:

The feature I most miss (from Firefox) is command-shift-T for “open most recently closed tab.” I’m always closing tabs and then realizing I wasn’t done with that tab. Chrome keeps excellent and easy-to-use history, so I don’t miss it as much as I did in Safari, but it’s still a feature I would love to see.

Andrew Choi says:

the thing i couldn’t stand about safari, though it grew on me over time, was the lack of ‘open last closed tab’ which i use 100 times a day

outrider says:

Something I don’t like: no ‘Mail this page’ or ‘mail link to this page’, as in Safari. And I’m also missing FF’s fun stuff. Chrome is kind of like
Al Gore dancing at the Clinton inaugural ball.

darkermatter says:

Re: Comments by Basil Safwat…

Surely, the close buttons would work just as well on the left as long as one doesn’t mouse out of the tab bar.

The tabs still have to slide in to fill the same gap/size!

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