Friday, September 19, 2008

War of the browsers, part 3q2008

I'm using several "next-gen" internet browsers right now, namely Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2 and Google Chrome Beta. Here are my personal reactions:

Internet Explorer:
Much better than Beta 1, this browser is really stable. Far more sites are compatible with this very standards-compliant browser...more than I was afraid might be the case. And for those sites that don't render correctly, they've got a logical button that renders it the "old" way, and it actually does just what you'd expect it to. Bravo.

I love the colored grouped tabs. However, I don't think that every tab opened by pressing the "Home" button should automatically be grouped together. Personal opinion. By way of explaining what I mean, understand I've got IE set up to only open my "first" home page when I launch the browser (I've got somewhere around 7 home page tabs set though). If it's first thing in the morning and I WANT all of my home page tabs, they're just a click of the home button away. Otherwise, I only get one tab that I can navigate anywhere I want. But when I press the home button, all my home pages come up, and are colored as one group. I think you should be able to set how they're grouped when you set the home page tabs so they come up that way every time. Which leads me to my next wish...

I really want better control over the tab groups. For instance, if I have a tab group with seven tabs in it and I want to split it into two groups, the only way of doing that is to right-click a tab in the middle and choose to "Ungroup this tab". Now I've got two tab groups. Not ideal, but not bad. But if I want to group two existing tabs, you've got to start a tab group (requires you to launch a new tab from one of the existing tabs...hopefully there's a link somewhere on one of those pages), then drag the tab you want to group with those BETWEEN the grouped tabs. Now it's a part of that group, and you can close the extra tab. That's quite a process. However, I do a bit of GUI work myself, and I admit, though I can imagine how I'd like the feature to work, I can't imagine a good way of providing ACCESS to that feature. It's not a small task.

The address bar and search bar modifications are good, though I had to read the IE blog to find some of the "hidden" features. I love that I can finally re-order my search engine list! The only thing I'd like here is the ability to manually change the icon associated with each search engine; I have a few that I manually created at Microsoft's Internet Explorer Search Provider Gallery, and they all use the default icon, so it's hard to tell at a glance when you're typing a query which icon to click on in the drop-down.

I'm surprised that nobody's heralded the fix of a common complaint in IE7; you can now move the bar with your home button, etc wherever you want. Though I'm used to it now, so it's stayed in its default location.

The new "New Tab" page is nice, though I actually prefer Google Chrome's similar page. Which brings me to...

Google Chrome

At first, this browser appears to be the sleek and fast browser Google promises. I ended up having more complaints with this browser than I expected to, however.

First, this browser leaks memory worse than Firefox 2. If I leave it open for more than an hour, my computer slows to a crawl. At least it pops right back to full speed as soon as I close Chrome though. Oddly, Chrome's task manager doesn't list it as using more memory when it's bogging than when it's first launched. I guess that's what "memory leak" means though; it's using memory it's not supposed to be using.

The install process was really nice; quick to install a very small download. It should be easier to find where it asks you if you want to import settings from your existing browser, however.

Each time I installed Chrome, I told it not to import any settings, but it still auto-logged me into several secure websites, which means it's still using some settings from IE. That concerns me.

I like the fully draggable tabs- being able to drag a tab from one window to another, or to the desktop is really nice. I wish IE had this.

The Application Shortcuts window is intriguing, but I missed having a back button. I really only use this for specific pages like Pandora. I wish that each Application Shortcut was actually an xml-based (or similar) archive with any and all files (cookies and alternately cache files) needed for that shortcut so you could (for instance) have different Application Shortcuts that would open up Gmail in different accounts automatically. If they did this, I'd actually use it much more.

Similar features are harder to find in Chrome than in IE. They need to list the same things in the "New Tab" page as IE, without getting rid of what they DO list.

That being said, I love the "New Tab" page (which doubles as the home page) in Chrome. It makes sense to give me thumbnail links to my most commonly-visited websites, and I like this being my home page. Even having the equivilant control as the "links toolbar" in IE only show up on this page makes sense.

I really don't like that I can't press and hold my mouse wheel and drag the mouse to scroll quickly in Chrome.

I actually miss having a separate search box- I use it as a temporary notepad type area in IE

Searching from the address bar is NOT new - IE was offering this at least in version 5, but it's more discoverable now than ever before, and it's not a bad idea. That being said, searching with multiple search engines in Chrome is horribly broken. Ironic, since Google is, at its heart, a search company. You can only do it in Chrome by using keywords. For instance, if you wanted to search with Google Images in IE, you'd type your query in the search box and choose Google Images instead of your default search engine from the dropdown. In Chrome, you have to assign a keyword to each alternate search engine, then type the keyword (for instance gi for google images) before your query in the address bar, then select "search gi for..." from the drop-down. It's really a pain.


So all in all, I look forward to the release of IE8, and I hope that Chrome serves to keep pressure on the more mainstream browsers (IE and Firefox), but I don't see it becoming a real long-term player in the browser war. But that's just my opinion.

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