Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Google Chrome, first impressions


Not the new browser (I'm using it right now, it's good enough) I mean "wow" in regards to the response to the browser.  Deafening and devastatingly quick, that's how I'd categorize the response so far.  Everyone from the giants at the New York Times (my co worker in the Library pointed this article out to me) to the smallest blogger have gotten their hands on the new browser and put it though some kind of paces.  I mean, there's so much out there that it's hard to really hard to say something that you might not have already seen somewhere else, but I'll try anyway.

Of course, being the impulsive geek that I am, I installed the browser before I read the comic as I'm sure many of you did as well.  But if you have 1/2 an hour, take a look at the link above, it's well worth the time.  What the comic does is brilliantly and succinctly explain that the egg-heads at Google are not just doing another browser re-write, but more like a browser revolution. That comic should be mandatory reading for all aspiring techies and old heads like me too.

One example of this "revolution" is the fact that each tab you open will be its own process on your computer.  Why should you care?  Well, this has several benefits; first, in Firefox (and IE) when old tabs die, they can sometimes hold on to bits of memory.  This leads to bloated processes that are holding on to memory and ultimately a slower browsing experience.  Second, since each tab is its own process, cleanup of that old memory is much faster, leading to more efficiency over all.  And then there's the big benefit; sandboxing.  Since each tab is it's own process Chrome can leverage the sandboxing technology they bought from Green Border Technologies to, basically, prevent applications running in one instance to use (or infect) other resources.  Thus, sandboxing makes your browser experience safer. Which is huge.

Currently to get a similar level of security I run Firefox with NoScript and Ad Blocker Plus but it's important to note that No Script is not sandboxing the scripts but just blocking all scripts from running and allowing me to choose which scripts I want to run and when.  Typically, I have to allow sites to run some scripts -- for an example try to go to with Javascript turned off. Since I have to allow a site to run at least the root scripts that means that I'm vulnerable to those scripts if they get tainted somehow.  In the sandboxed environment I should never be vulnerable, since the script is (theoretically) only allowed to act within the confines of the sandbox.  Thus, Google Chrome should be the safest browser yet.

This is all to say that ultimately, Google Chrome should be faster and safer.  We'll have to see, it's an open source, extensible, complex program, there are bound to be faults that can be exploited. And as for increased speed, regardless of benchmark tests which prove the Java script engine is faster than most I haven't seen any improvement in my browsing experience yet.  Of course... we're talking milliseconds here so I doubt that anyone will really notice the difference between say Firefox and Chrome.

There were also enterprise problems with Chrome that I discovered.  The first, and biggest, is that for right now each user on every machine has to load the browser personally.  This has to do with the fact that Chrome is stored in the user's profile in Windows and there's no option for a global install.  I'm sure they will fix this problem, because a browser that's not available for multiple users on a single machine is simply useless to me.

The second problem is just now coming to light and writers like Art Wittman (thanks Gary for the link) and others are pointing it out; the EULA gives Google a perpetual license to use your data how they see fit.  Sort of like what they do with search and gmail, they keep everything you have ever done on the Internet (though their services) and can use it for whatever they want. Which generally means "targeted advertising."  But this license gives them explicit permissions to, say, take a photograph of Grandma Mel that you upload to Flickr (which you have explicitly retained the rights to) and use it in any way that they see fit.  They could plaster your photo of Grandma all over town with some less than flattering caption if they want and according to the EULA there's nothing you can do.  It's a patently laughable idea and if the products weren't so darn cool I think fewer people would be excited to use them based solely on that license. 

So, I guess that my first impression is that it's a Google product.  It's really cool, very innovative, and darn near the perfect tool and to use it, you just have to give them rights to all data you ever transmit or receive through it.

Ready to make that Faustian bargain?  Then try it out for yourself.

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