September 02, 2008

I Spent the Day On Windows, Just to Use Chrome

Some people might think the typical Mac user has a superiority complex, and you could be excused for thinking so, if the Mac vs. PC commercials were any indication. But every once in a while, a cool "must try out" app comes along that leaves us a little envious ourselves - making us feel like we're being considered lesser beings. Today, Google's debut of Chrome, their next generation Web browser, was for Windows only, not for Macs. But putting my better judgement aside, I was willing to fire up VMware Fusion and stay in Google Chrome for the day to give it a fair shake. While it wasn't light-years ahead of anything I've ever tried, I'm glad I spent the time to check it out, and it's going to be fun seeing it get developed and ready for my preferred platform.

I believe the world is moving away from an operating system-based model to that of the Web browser. More essential applications are moving to the browser, and with the exception of Microsoft Office apps and Adobe PhotoShop, I could spend virtually my entire day just in the browser or on e-mail. This does two contradictory things: #1, it makes it easier for people to switch between operating systems, like from PC to Mac, and #2, it makes the differentiation between Macs and PCs less important to begin with, making the tie-ins with Web properties and creative applications like iLife and MobileMe just that much more critical.

When Google finally opened up Chrome to the masses around mid-day today, I wasn't going to sit on the sidelines, so I fired up VMware Fusion, with a Windows XP environment, opened Internet Explorer, and downloaded Chrome. A few minutes later, I had one of the fastest, most minimal browsers out there. While I didn't import any bookmarks or my own user history, it wasn't long before I was using corporate e-mail, and opening new tabs to check all my usual sites, without any issues. Pages loaded quickly, and with the exception of needing to install a Flash plug-in, all the content worked.

Curious if Chrome would be allowed to visit more secure sites, I logged onto Wells Fargo Bank and eTrade and didn't get any issues of the bank not supporting the browser. Interestingly enough, my own SiteMeter account recognized the Chrome visit instead as a variant of Safari (thanks to the underlying WebKit foundation), which likely explained why it was so smooth.

Awwwww.... Snap!

I only encountered one failed tab, which responded with an "Aw, Snap!" with an accompanying unhappy face. But other than that small failure, browsing was quick, and not much different than any other browser. The main differences on the surface had to be seeing my most frequently-visited sites in grid form as I opened new tabs, and seeing the tabs themselves along the top of the browser.

My popular visits (scrubbed for work), seen in Chrome

Pretty much the only complaint I have so far is I don't know how to customize my most "favorite" pages, so I can remove some from the grid, like corporate Web mail or the Intranet. If there's a way, I haven't seen it yet, but it's not a showstopper.

Typically, using an application under Windows emulation on VMware is remarkably slower than its native equivalent. But I didn't feel bogged down by Chrome, as I mentioned on Twitter. It just worked. I even enabled the "Unity" setting so the Chrome browser window floated above all my other Mac apps, and it seemed just right.

Will it be enough to make users turn off Internet Explorer? So far, I'd say not yet. Nothing about the browser made it amazingly better for the unwashed masses who have grown used to accepting Microsoft's half-hearted attempts at software. But I can't see any good reason I'd ever use Firefox or Opera or Flock again. Chrome is going to be my alternative to Safari on Windows and I'm interested to see if they can sway me on the Mac side, hooks and all.