Google raises ante in browser wars with its new Chrome 12

Strong competition is good for the consumer. In the heavily fought browser wars, Firefox 4 has been closing the gap with current industry leader Internet Explorer, partially since the new and improved IE 9 is incompatible with Windows XP while Firefox 4 will run on almost all platforms. Also in the race for browser supremacy is Google, which recently released version 12 of its popular Chrome browser. Chrome has developed a large and loyal following, and many have sworn off (and swear at) Internet Explorer, and to a lesser extent, Firefox.

With Internet Explorer factory installed on all Windows computers in the U.S., it has a built in near-monopoly status with new users, and those users who are unaware or unwilling to try a new browser. But since so many users of all experience levels use Google, it is inevitable that many of them have seen the advertising for Google’s entry in the crowded browser field, and many of those have downloaded Google’s Chrome browser. As with almost all other browsers available, Google is free to download and use.

But why Chrome? The answer is that it is free, will not interfere with any other installed browsers, runs on all recent versions of Windows, installs quickly, is arguably one of the fastest browsers when it comes to displaying Web pages, offers search direct from the address bar, and has thousands of third-party applications (known as “apps”) available to customize the browser.

A warning about the install process may be in order. On the download page for Chrome are a pair of checkboxes that the user needs to be aware of. One checkbox, if checked, will make Chrome the default browser, meaning that Chrome will be opened automatically if a browser is called from the computer or an application. Another checkbox says, “Help make Google Chrome better by automatically sending usage statistics and crash reports to Google.” While the usage statistic reports are relatively safe in terms of personal privacy because no personal information is collected, a crash report that is automatically sent to Google may contain personal information.

Google explains this: “Usage statistics contain aggregated information such as preferences, button clicks, and memory usage. It does not include Web page URLs or any personal information. Crash reports contain system information at the time of the crash, and may contain Web page URLs or personal information, depending on what was happening at the time of the crash.” My personal choice is to not check either of the boxes, as it is easy to reconfigure the “Options” in Chrome after it is installed. One minor issue occurred when installing Chrome. It attempted to place a “Google Updater” in my start-up list, which would have run the update utility whenever the computer was booted. Most users will never notice the slight drag on boot time and performance that Google Updater causes, and it will keep Chrome (and any other installed Google products) up to date. My preference is to minimize any programs that load at boot, and to manually check for updates.

In my experience, the browser is the most commonly used program on the computer, and a good, fast browser can really enhance the computing experience. Chrome can fill that need. Both the published speed comparisons and my own experiences have demonstrated that Chrome is much faster at displaying Web pages than Internet Explorer. Chrome loads quickly, much faster than Internet Explorer, as it is a smaller footprint to load. Web based applications (apps) also load and run faster on Chrome than IE. Also, Chrome offers very good protection from many of the forms of Web attack. Chrome utilizes what is called a “sandbox,” or a mini-virtual computer and virtual hard drive to open Web pages or run many Web based apps, such that most potential malware carried by Web sites or online apps will not take over the computer. The Chrome “Safe Browsing” feature warns against Web sites that may contain malware, or are suspected phishing (identity theft) Web sites. If such a Web site is detected, the browser window turns red and posts a stern warning about the Web site. Chrome has one of the cleanest, uncluttered desktops in the browser industry; almost all of the desktop is available to display Web content. While most other browsers have one box for Internet addresses (URLs) and another box for searches, Chrome utilizes a single bar that serves both functions.

Google offers the “Chrome Web Store” where there are thousands of both free and paid applications, themes and extensions for Chrome. Extensions are small utilities that work with Chrome to enhance its functionality or add additional features. There are hundreds of “Themes” that can be used to change the appearance of Chrome. One of the most popular, “Porsche,” has been downloaded and installed more than a million times.I am frequently asked on my radio show about the wisdom of having more than one browser installed, and it may be a good idea to do precisely that. By having multiple browsers installed, the user can try them all, compare them, and decide which one to use as the default or predominant browser. For many users, Google’s Chrome has become and remains the browser of choice.