Review: Google's Chrome -- the first true Web 2.0 browser

Google's new Chrome browser uses simplicity and some clever new features to bring Web surfing into the 21st century.

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A different type of tab

As with any modern browser, Chrome offers tabbed browsing. In some basic ways, its handling of tabs is superior to IE's and Firefox's, but in other ways, it's not as sophisticated.

The biggest break with other browsers is that each tab in Chrome is, in essence, its own browser. That's why the tabs are above the address bar rather than below it. You can detach any tab by dragging it away from the browser, and it becomes a separate browser window. You can combine separate browser instances into a unified one by dragging it back again, but you have to be careful to drag the tab itself back, rather than trying to drag the whole window, or it won't work.

Because each tab is in essence its own browser, if that tab crashes, it should not crash the entire browser. Microsoft makes the same claim for Internet Explorer 8. I haven't had any tabs crash on me yet in Chrome, so can't verify if this tab-crash feature works.

When you open a new tab, it opens just to the right of the tab from which you've opened it, so to a certain extent Chrome keeps related tabs together. You can drag tabs from place to place within the tab bar, and when they you do that, they slide in place in a smooth animation.

But Chrome doesn't group and color-code tabs like Internet Explorer 8 does. And it doesn't offer right-click options for handling groups of tabs -- for example, in IE8, you can close and duplicate entire tab groups. You can't do that in Chrome. However, Chrome does offer a variety of right-click options for handling tabs, such as closing all the tabs except for your current tab, and closing all tabs to the right of your current tab.

A particularly useful feature is what appears when you open a new tab. Rather than opening to a blank page or your home page, it opens to a page that lists your nine most visited Web pages with a thumbnail for each, a recent bookmark list, recently closed tabs and a search box that lets you search through the history of sites you've visited. Internet Explorer 8 offers a similar feature.

Chrome lacks some very important and basic tab-handling features that other browsers have. When you close Firefox, for example, it asks whether you want to save your tabs so that you can reopen them all automatically the next time you launch your browser. Chrome has no such feature. Worse yet, it doesn't even ask if you really want to close your browser, so you may find yourself losing entire browsing sessions.

Chrome

A new tab opens to a page that lists your nine most visited Web pages.

Click to view larger image.

Chrome also doesn't have a feature that will restore previous sessions. You can restore previous tabs by opening a new tab page -- there's a "Recently closed tabs" listing below the "Recent bookmarks" listing on that page. If you've closed several tabs and want to reopen only one of them, Chrome's way is useful -- you can go right to the tab you want. But it's not as convenient as right-clicking and choosing "Undo Close Tab"; also, you can't reopen more than one at a time, and if you've closed your browser, the entire list goes away.

These are significant shortcomings, and one hopes that Google will add these features in future versions.

Privacy and security

Chrome has all the security features you'd expect in a modern browser, including a pop-up blocker and an antiphishing tool. As with other browsers, when you visit a site Chrome considers a phishing attack, you'll get a warning screen.

Chrome

A warning for those visiting phishing sites.

Click to view larger image.

It blocks pop-ups as well. When it does, a subtle notice appears at the bottom of your screen, telling you that a pop-up was blocked. If for some reason you want to see the pop-up, click the notice and the pop-up appears.

Chrome also has what it calls Incognito mode, in which all traces of your browsing session disappear when you close that window. Cookies, temporary Internet files, browsing history and so on go away when you close the session. You get there by pressing Ctrl-Shift-N, or choosing "New incognito window" from the Page icon's menu. This mode is the same as Internet Explorer 8's InPrivate Browsing. Think of both of them as porn mode.

Google also says that Chrome increases security in another way, by essentially running each tab in an individual sandbox. The sandbox is closed off from the rest of your PC, Google claims. It can't write to your hard drive, or read files from certain areas of your PC such as your Desktop. According to Google, this will help eliminate malware infections.

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