Monday, September 8, 2008

Google Chrome, second impressions

I've now had my hot little hands on the Google Chrome browser for almost a week and have further data to report back on the browser. 

The EULA Boondoggle

As reported in various places, and re-reported here, when the browser was released, Section 11 of Google Chrome's EULA had some very strange language which seemed to give Google
a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.
After talking to some of my more knowledgeable Copyright colleagues about the topic, they assured me that there was no way Google could enforce this clause. "Copyright just doesn't change hands this way" was the way one friend put it. 

Still, this strange EULA (and the fact that it's a Beta) also gave many corporations pause leading to more than a few corporate bans of downloading and installing the product. After all, who wants their employees downloading a Beta browser that already has proof-of-concept security flaws, AND that has an odious EULA?  Uhh, none?

At this point Google started to feel the heat and they responded by, well, by changing the EULA. It now simply states
11. Content license from you
11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.
Google responded, end of story. Now, if we wait long enough they might solve the security problems and take it out of Beta, of course, considering that Gmail is still in beta, I am doubtful.

Accessibility Problems

A new, serious, flaw has been discovered: the beta release of Chrome is not an accessible browser and from a UW Tacoma Library point of view this is a deal breaker. Our technologies must, at the very least, be able to function with screen reading software like JAWS and preliminary reports show that it isn't. This is yet another thing that Google will need to work on if they are going to garner wide-spread adoption of this software.

What's even more worrying is that they knew about the problems and their response was to simply release a statement about how the APIs were designed to be compatible with WAI-ARIA and that we should expect more compatibility in future releases.

This is not to say that I was going to rush out and install the browser here, it is still in beta test. More just that it's another thing for Gooogle to impress me with their response time, much like they did with the EULA.

Cool Features

It seems like I'm discovering a new cool feature every day. Yesterday, I discovered that when you do a "Find" (Ctrl + F) there are several improvements over Firefox and IE. First, there's no popup window and the find function doesn't take up a strip at the bottom of the browser. It's appears as a small drop-down in the upper right corner of the screen -- yet another way that Chrome user interface is inobtrusive. Second, the search feature automatically highlights search terms in the browser window. And finally, in a function with limited application, it marks the scroll bar with a strip of yellow to show where on the page the hits are showing up.  i use this last feature to scroll through large pages that are ordered chronologically and gather data on when a term was popular. I'm sure someone can come up with a better use of this!

There's also the incognito mode, which I know is being ridiculed as "porn mode" but honestly, I think it's a great idea. First, my partner and I share a computer at home. Whenever she logs on to read her gmail, I'll inevitably come along later and use the computer and her gmail will still be logged on. Or her Yahoo account, or any of a thousand things she's done on the computer that day will leave traces behind. Normally, this isn't a problem but there have been times when she was looking at a gift for me on Ebay and I ruined it simply by opening the browser. Incognito mode solves that problem.

Also, as an adult with small kids, I might look at content that isn't appropriate for my daughters (, for example, far from a pr0n site, but not exactly something I want a 10 year old looking at) and incognito mode is great to keep those tracks clean.

And from a public workstation standpoint, as a user and as an administrator, I'm always in favor of browsers that automatically clean their tracks (Firefox, etc), but I'd be even more in favor of one that doesn't leave any in the first place (Chrome Incognito). Here in the library, students sometimes have to use a credit card to put money on their Husky account (for printing and food and stuff) which they have to do through a browser window. Regardless of how secure the site is, I'm just more comfortable doing something like that in a browser that doesn't leave any tracks and I would want to make incognito mode the default mode for all student browsers in the library, just as a precaution.

I'd just like to see a couple of features added to this mode: parental locks to keep kids from browsing Incognito if desired, and the ability to make Incognito the default mode.


It's way to early to jump to any conclusions about Chrome. At the very least, there's a lot of work that Google need to do if they want to bring it up to the industry standard and see widespread adoption. If that's not their goal, and instead they just wanted to show the world something neat -- mission accomplished. Let's follow it up with something more business friendly, please?

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