I guess Google founders, Larry and Sergey, have had their propellers spinning lately. They've taken time off cruising around their Lego castles on Segweys long enough to contemplate their next move towards global domination, web browsing.
Google released a beta version of it's web browser Chrome last week and nerd 'net boards erupted in fawning adulation of the new toy. It's a real under-the-hood kind of praise, as most of its best features are obscure, but technically useful, improvements to the way a browser shows pages.
Yeah, it looks neat and works pretty damn quick. But, so what? You might be surprised by my recommendation about what to use it for, but let's take a look anyway.
It sports an minimalist layout with pages loaded in tabs at the top and a conspicuous lack of a menu bar for items like File, Edit, Tools, etc. The basic look is Viagra blue and owes its aesthetic to current versions of Internet Explorer. When you launch it, it loads the most visited sites in a thumbnail grid across the page. There isn't a bookmarks dropdown list, although most recently visited pages are listed to the right of the thumbnails.
Managing bookmarks is really lame. You are forced to use the suggested results "feature" in various entry boxes and new tab dropdown. You can turn on a bookmarks toolbar, but good luck setting it up easily. This alone is going to confuse most people and piss off the rest.
You get Back and Forward buttons, but no Home button by default. You can enable it by clicking the little wrench and choosing options, but I doubt many people will know to even look for that. There aren't many buttons at all actually. That makes for a clean interface, but not very mouse-friendly.
You can even break these off into standalone applications that can be launched from the Start menu. That means you can have three custom-sized windows open at once showing your mail, feeds, and custom map showing the best pastrami sandwich in town. That's exactly what I intend to use it for when they release it for Mac (it's Windows only right now).
Many of Chrome's best features are directly ripped off from or easily reproducible in Firefox. The download manager, suggested search in the URL box, most visited sites, tab-centric layout, and "stealth" mode are already available in Firefox 3 as easily acquired extensions.
The people who want this are also the ones who would buy an iPhone modified to look like a Star Trek communicator.
But Chrome does have one great feature called "Incognito" that allows you to surf the web and leave no tracks on your computer. It doesn't store your history, page caches, or cookies. So you can fire it up and surf away, knowing that there will be no trace once you quit. It's true that Firefox and IE8 already do this, but Chrome's implementation with break away windows is pretty damn cool.
This mode is touted as a way to "to plan surprises like gifts or birthdays" without their knowledge. Yeah, right. For the rest of the world, that's called Porn Mode. It's like setting up a self-cleaning jack shack in the shed behind the big house. I guess Adam Sandler is a consultant at Google now.
But, if you're reading this to get my recommendation about whether to switch, here is my advice:
Turn off your computer. Drive to Folly Beach and climb the stairs to the rooftop of Snapper Jack's. Order some good brown beer and some onion rings. Think of three friends you haven't talked to in five years. Call them. Watch the sun go down. Spend the drive home with the radio loud, not thinking about whether anything you can download will change your life in any way.