Chrome on Linux: Rough, fast & promising

I'd been waiting for Chrome on Linux since Chrome first showed up. Chrome, if you haven't tried it, is the speed-demon of Web browsers. I love it. But, until now, there really wasn't a version that would run natively on Linux. Starting last night, June 4th, Google released developer's versions of Chrome for Macs and Linux. They're rough, really rough, but they're also really fast. Here's what I found in my first hours of working with Chrome on Linux.

I downloaded the developer release on two different Linux systems. One was running MEPIS 8 and the other had Ubuntu 9.04. Both are Debian-based Linux distributions, and I chose them for that since Chrome is currently only available in 32 and 64-bit versions in the DEB format. You can install DEB packages in Linux distributions that use RPM program packaging systems, but I didn't want to introduce any more variables than possible in looking at alpha software.

In the event, while Chrome installed without a hitch in both, on MEPIS, it wasn't able to connect with any network services, so I dropped looking at it on that Linux for now. On my Ubuntu 9.04 PC it was a different story. On this Gateway 503GR with a 3GHz Pentium IV CPU, 2GB of RAM, an ATI Radeon 250 graphics card, and a 300GB SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) hard drive, Chrome ran with blazing speed.

It also, I should say, ran remarkably badly. It's been years since I've seen normal CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and HTML pages render quite so horribly. Columns wouldn't line up and there were visual artifacts from the top of every page to the bottom.

But, as Google Chrome developers, Mike Smith and Karen Grunberg, said in their Chromium blog, about the Mac and Linux releases: "please DON'T DOWNLOAD THEM! Unless of course you are a developer or take great pleasure in incomplete, unpredictable, and potentially crashing software."

Well, Chrome on Ubuntu hasn't crashed on me, but it sure has done everything else wrong that it could. Except, that is, run slowly.

So, in brief, here's what doesn't work on this alpha version of Chrome: plug-ins; media-players like Flash; printing; security settings; Firefox bookmark importing, and a host of other problems. For the full, at the moment, list you can visit the Chromium issues page.

The developers are quite right. This is no browser for anyone except Chromium, Chrome's open-source project, developers or people who want to play with the fastest new toys. There is no way anyone could use Chrome on Linux as an ordinary browser.

That said, I love it. I feel like a 16-year old with a broken down car that can do 0-to-70-MPH (miles per hour) in less than 7 seconds. It may be junk, but boy, it's fast junk.

How fast? On the SunSpider JavaScript Benchmark, the Chrome alpha came in at 1227.4ms (milliseconds). On the same system, Firefox 3.0.10 came in at 5564.8ms. Need I say more?

So use Chrome on Linux now? No, forget about it. But, you can bet I'm looking forward to using it on a daily basis on my Linux systems when it goes fina--whenever that will be! Google, as usual, isn't talking. Come that day, Firefox 3.5, which was recently delayed, will be in for some real competition.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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