By Harry McCracken | Thursday, December 11, 2008 at 4:33 pm
Well, that was quick! Yesterday, my colleague Dave Worthington wrote about the news that Google planned to take its Chrome browser out of beta soon. Soon, it turns out, is right now. The little “BETA” label is gone from the Chrome logo, and you can download version 1.0 from the Chrome site. Assuming, that is, that you’re using Windows.
And unless you’ve got an inexplicable aversion to cool new software, I recommend that you do spend some time with Chrome. I wouldn’t have guessed that it was possible to bring so much new thinking to a Web browser circa 2008–especially without adding much in the way of new features. But Chrome is fun, zippy, and practical. If it were a car (I hate automotive metaphors in tech journalism, but can’t help myself) it might be something like this.
When I met with one of the people in charge of Chrome a month ago, he told me that Chrome would ship when it displayed Web pages properly and was sufficiently reliable, not when Google had added every feature on its to-do list. Chrome in its 1.0 version reflect that: It’s got far fewer features than Firefox, Flock, IE, Opera, or Safari, and I’m sure some folks will come away disappointed simply because it’s ultimately pretty basic. The Google blog post on today’s news mentions two upcoming features: form autofill (I’m a little surprised the browser came out of beta without it) and RSS. And it reaffirms its intention to release versions for Mac and Linux versions without revealing a timetable.
Google says it has plans to add lots more stuff to Chrome; that’s good news, although the browser’s streamlined, no-muss-no-fuss personality is so pleasing that the company will have to work hard not to bloat it up over time. I do, however, have a little list of new features that I hope are on Google’s Chrome agenda.
More platforms. I use OS X more than Windows these days, and I like browsers I can use on both operating systems. Which, come to think of it, is all the major ones except Chrome [update: and IE, of course--duh!]. Given the high volume of Mac aficionados at the Googleplex, I’m hoping that the Mac edition is actually nearly done, and that Google will spring it on us as a happy surprise before we know it.
Extensions. Google’s working on them, but it sounds like they’re still in the figuring-it-all-out stage, and once the extension framework is ready it’ll still be a long time until Chrome has anywhere near as many wonderful add-ons as Firefox does.
More Google integration. There’s infinite opportunity for Google to meld its browser and its Web services into a seamless, powerful whole. Shouldn’t Google’s online bookmarks service be tied into Chrome’s bookmarks? Might Chrome tap into the Google Maps API to do clever things with geographical info? What if Chrome had an iGoogle sidebar or could run iGoogle gadgets in windows that popped out of the browser? I’m not sure if Google hasn’t gone here yet because A) it doesn’t want to; B) it needs more time to get it right; or C) it’s worried about anti-trust hobgoblins like those that haunted Microsoft in the 1990s when it integrated Windows and IE. And I’m not arguing for doing anything that would make Google services run poorly in other browsers. But I still think there’s huge opportunity to make Chrome the first browser that’s part software and part service.
More Webification, period. I want a browser that behaves exactly the same on every computer I use it on, with the same bookmarks, saved tabs, and settings. Opera Link does some of this, and Mozilla Weave is an ambitious attempt to do something along these lines with Firefox. But who’s better equipped than Google to nail this idea?
Smarter application shortcuts. I love the idea here: Chrome lets you tuck icons for Web-based applications onto your desktop or into the Start menu that launch them in their own windows, with no unnecessary browser toolbars. But this feature could go even further to make Web apps feel like desktop apps. For one thing, I can’t understand why Google’s own Google Docs spawns a second, standard browser window when you launch any of its apps after putting its home page into application-shortcut form.
True zoom. Chrome’s zoom feature just makes the type smaller or larger. It oughta change the size of images, too, as just about every other browser Firefox, IE, and Opera now does do.
If you’re using Chrome, let me know what you think–and what items are on your to-do list for the Chrome development team.