Chrome if You Want To

I have to say I’m not all that excited about Google’s new browser. Sure, I downloaded it in the first 15 minutes after it was released. Three or four friends and I kicked the tires in that first half hour, and I already had a pretty well-formed opinion about by the time I got home that afternoon. But I’m not sure it’s living up to all the hype.

For the uninitiated, Chrome is a new open source web browser. The idea is that you’d use it instead of Internet Explorer or Firefox. It’s touted as being faster and more secure and more stable than the other browsers available. In a CNet benchmark test, it blew away the competition in JavaScript speed. For Web 2.0 kinds of applications that make heavy use of JavaScript, this is a big advantage. A more comprehensive test by Lifehacker yielded much more modest results, with Firefox more than holding its own and Internet Explorer not far behind.

In EdTechWeekly #93, I reported that my unscientific assessment was that Chrome uses three times as much memory as Firefox. I had 17 tabs open for the show, and I tried opening the same 17 sites in both Firefox and Chrome. Though Chrome had many more processes, including a separate one for each tab, the total was about three times as much memory as the same sites open in Firefox.

This morning, I tried a similar test. I subscribe to the Ars Technica RSS feed, so I opened the most recent 20 items in tabs in both browsers. Firefox used 196,400 K of memory to do this, while Chrome used 456,920 K. Clearly, if they’re targeting speedy performance, they’re expecting you to have a lot of RAM.

What if I open fewer tabs? I restarted both browsers, and just opened the Google home page. No iGoogle. I’m not logged in. I’m just trying to keep things simple and equal. This time, Chrome won, using only 36,464 K to Firefox’s 65,368. Loading just one additional tab, though (CNN’s home page) shifted the advantage back to Firefox.

Performance numbers aside, the browser seems very young. There aren’t any plugins, so all of the customizations to Firefox that I’ve grown to rely on in the last few years aren’t there. The biggest drawbacks we noted in the first week were the lack of support for Java and the lack of a Delicious toolbar. The Java problem was fixed quickly with an update to Java. And, as it turns out, you can use a bookmarklet to emulate the Delicious tag button. If you want to go to the trouble, you can even define a custom search to allow you to search your Delicious items right from the Chrome omnibox. So those hurdles have been overcome.

The security and stability claims have to wait. I defer to Steve Gibson‘s wisdom on this. When analyzing the Microsoft hype leading up to the release of Vista, he pointed out that “most secure operating system ever developed” is the kind of title that’s earned, not claimed. We’ll just have to wait and see.

For now, I’m sticking with Firefox. There’s no killer app for Chrome yet — nothing Chrome can do that I want badly enough to force me to give up the comfort of my current browser. I took a look at this article on how to emulate many of Chrome’s best features in Firefox, and found that I’m already doing most of them. Until there’s a compelling reason to switch, I’m staying where I am.