Today I had the privilege of speaking with Ian Fette, the Product Manager for Google Chrome. Rich Rushforth and I spoke with him earlier this year on a podcast that you can listen to on the Compu-KISS website.
Google Chrome is a relatively new web browser that some are turning to because of its simplicity, speed, and security. Chrome has the cleanest, most uncluttered interface of any browser that I’ve seen. It also has some power features that I’ll talk about later in my full review.
Ian gave me a little insight into the goings-on at Google. They are working hard at taking Chrome to the next phase. This phase will include an extension system for Chrome. This is a system that will allow users to take the simple interface of Chrome and to add only the icons, features, and tools that they feel they will use. This is very similar to what Firefox calls “add-ons”, and it has made Firefox very useful and very popular. Firefox, however, has a pretty complex interface. When you choose additional add-ons, it can get fairly crowded-looking. With the simplicity of the Chrome interface, the addition of extensions could make it a very appealing web browser.
I’ll keep you posted as I hear more, but if they do it right, you can expect Chrome to give both Firefox and Internet Explorer a run for their money.
Recently Microsoft announced the newest version of their popular web browser, Internet Explorer 8. After trying the test (beta) versions of this software, I was ready to write this column giving it a big thumbs down. But low and behold, when I tried the finished version, I was surprised to find that it was much improved. In fact, I like it.
In the test versions that I tried, Internet Explorer 8 was flaky and unstable. Its biggest problem was that it displayed many websites incorrectly. In this version Microsoft actually adhered to more web standards than it did with previous versions, which is good. The problem, however, is that most websites were set up to display properly in previous non-standard versions of Internet Explorer and so they didn’t display correctly in IE 8. At one time, Microsoft published a list of websites that were incompatible with IE8, and that list included many large websites like Apple and the New York Times. Believe it or not, Microsoft’s own website was on the incompatible list. In test versions, my Compu-KISS website crashed the new browser. Many websites displayed with broken menus and misaligned text. In fact IE8 had so many problems with so many websites that Microsoft added a compatibility button on the right side of the address bar. This button could be used for any websites that needed compatibility with a previous version of Internet Explorer to display correctly. In test versions of IE8, I used that button a lot.
So I was totally amazed when the final version of Internet Explorer came out and most of the incapability problems were fixed. Not only do the Apple and Microsoft websites display properly, but so did compukiss.com and other sites that were previously problematic.
Somehow Microsoft pulled off a complete turnaround. The incompatibility button is still there, but in more than a week of heavy use of the new browser, I didn’t have to use it at all. In fact, I only encountered a few minor glitches. What’s more I thoroughly enjoyed this new browser.
Microsoft has improved security with internet Explorer 8 and has also added some useful features. The first new feature is called Accelerators. In IE 8, when you highlight a word or phrase on the screen a small blue arrow appears. Click on that arrow and you can choose what you want to do with that selection. For instance, you can email it, translate it, search for it, and/or map it. This is extremely useful. Highlight an address and you can get a map in two clicks. Or you can search for the highlighted phrase without having to go to your search engine and type it in. Of course, Microsoft Maps and Microsoft Live Search are set as the defaults, but you can easily change that to other services like Google Maps or Yahoo! Search. In fact, you can easily add Accelerators to perform a variety of tasks. You can add one look up any word in a dictionary or in Wikipedia. You can get a stock quote, convert currency, get a traffic report, and much, much more.
Web Slices is another new feature. You can add a web slice to your Favorites toolbar. This allows you to keep track of a frequently updated websites. So you can easily watch any item on eBay or check a stock price. When new information becomes available from the web page you choose, it will be highlighted alerting you to the change. Although there is not a lot of support for Web Slices yet, I’m sure there will be in the future.
Like Firefox and Chrome, the Internet Explorer address bar now functions as an all-in-one location. Put in a search term and it will try to find what you are looking for. Put in an address and it will go there. It is, however, still not smart enough to know when it should add the www and the .com so that you can just type ebay or coke, and get to the right site. This is one of the things that Firefox does much better.
IE 8, however, does have a smart way of handling tabs. When you open a new tab from an existing page (right-click and say Open in New Tab) it opens directly to the right of the page you are on and it’s tab is color coded the same as the page you clicked from. These tabs form an easy-to-identify group. You can also drag a tab to a different group and it will be properly color-coded and become part of that group. Novices may not think much of this, but heavy-duty surfers who research or work with several different subjects at once will find it quite useful.
IE 8 also has the ability to reopen the last tab you’ve closed. Now if you inadvertently close a tab, you just press Ctrl-Shift-T to reopen it. You can also right-click on any tab and pick the web page that you want to reopen in the Recently Closed Tabs choice.
Internet Explorer 8 has quite a bit to offer. But some of its features may not be welcome to some. I am talking about the InPrivate browsing session which will not keep any of your surfing history. This has already become known as “porn mode”, and it is sure to be used by smart teens to cover their tracks when they visit places that mom and dad might not approve of.
I have installed IE8 on several computers including older and newer machines running Windows XP and various versions of Windows Vista. On some computers I had to turn off the anti-virus software to get a good install, other than that, IE 8 has installed and performed seamlessly. You may want to give it a try. It has some great new features and it is a free download that you can find at Microsoft’s website.
NOTE: Since this was written, many people have had trouble with IE8. Please read my article on this:
I recently updated my iTunes software to version 8, which has some pretty cool new features. When you update iTunes you must also update QuickTime, Apple’s multimedia player. I understand that iTunes uses the QuickTime codecs, but what if I don’t want QuickTime? Well, there is no choice. According to Apple you need to install QuickTime to run iTunes. I know that Apple could probably install their codecs and any other necessary QuickTime pieces without actually installing the whole QuickTime, but I give them the benefit of the doubt. They want to promote QuickTime and we all go along with it.
Now, however, Apple is getting on my nerves. For the last few month’s every time I update iTunes I am presented with an update window with a pre-checked box in front of both iTunes & QuickTime and Safari, Apple’s web browser. Safari is not a bad browser. I use it on my Mac, but I prefer to use Firefox on my PC. My gripe is that it sounds like Apple is doing me a favor to update my Safari browser, but it says the same thing even if Safari is not installed.
If you don’t uncheck the update Safari box, Apple installs Safari for you, whether you want it or not. This is obviously very confusing to many people who have written to me asking what Safari is and how it got on their computers.
Apple should be ashamed of themselves for these pushy tactics. If Microsoft tried to install Internet Explorer on a Mac machine when someone installed Microsoft Word, everyone would be up in arms. Yet Apple seems to get away with it!
So to answer all of you who have written about Safari, no it is not spyware. It is a web browser like Firefox and Internet Explorer. If you have inadvertently let Apple install it on your computer you can uninstall it from the Control Panel.
Yesterday another web browser entered the frey. I downloaded the new Google Chrome as soon as it was available. Although I have only used it for a day, I have already found things to love and a few to hate.
The most noticable thing is that the browser takes up less screen space. by moving the tabs to share the space with the title bar and removing the text menus, the browser functions take up less screen space. By putting the lone toolbar on a very pale background, everything looks cleaner and less cluttered. I am impressed with the new look.
Chrome has a dual-function address bar called the Omnibar. It doesn’t matter if you type in a URL or a search phrase. The browser will determine what you want and present you will the proper results. Like the Awesome Bar introduced in Firefox 3, the Omnibar gives you a drop-down box with choices that are usually quite accurate.
The best feature that I’ve found so far is the ability to drag a tab anywhere you want it — including to a new window. I also like that you can start the browser with nine thumbnail representations of your most-visited websites. Just click on any one to open it in a tab. This is a take off from Opera and from a Firefox add-in called Speed Dial. However, in Opera and Speed Dial you can customize your choices which you cannot do in Chrome….something they need to add.
Chrome offers an Incognito mode that hides all traces of your web browsing. Although this feature was popularized by the Safari browser, not everyone will use it. Certainly it will be helpful if you are buying a present for your wife or mistress or visiting porn websites, but may not be very useful to those of us who don’t need to hide our tracks. I would rather see Google not keep records of our search history like the search engine Ixquick has done.
Other things I like:
Things I don’t like:
I will be investigating the ability of Chrome to run applications within the browser, which seems like it may be a way for Google to take over the computer desktop. In the mean time, if you want to try something new, Chrome is free and it is quite usuable. With future improvements, it may become good competition to IE and Firefox.
Download Chrome directly from the Google Chrome Website.