Google knows how to lure users with the seeming simplicity of its products, even though there’s a great deal of complexity going on behind the scenes. Microsoft often makes products that seem to create more work than they should for users.
That dichotomy is evident in the companies’ Web browsers — Google’s new Chrome and Microsoft’s Windows Internet Explorer 8, both out in beta, or test, versions. (Msnbc.com is a Microsoft-NBC Universal joint venture.)
Chrome shines in its simplicity, while IE 8 brings some better functionality to an existing product.
Both have lots to offer users. Whether either is a good fit for you will depend on your needs. Just as learning a new operating system can be time-consuming, if you’re already happy with the Web browser you use, whether it’s Internet Explorer 7, Mozilla’s Firefox, Apple’s Safari, or Opera, you don’t have to download either Chrome or IE 8, both of which are free.
However, if you like to use different Web browsers at different times, and some people do, you may want to experiment with both.
Visually, Chrome is basic, spare and efficient, an antidote to the busy, cluttered look of Internet Explorer, and the anxiety it can provoke once you get lost within its menus.
I asked Google to explain the meaning of its new browser’s name, and the explanation fit with what the product evinces.
Chrome refers to “the user interface of the browser that surrounds the Web page,” said Erin Fors of Google. “The 'chrome' is everything other than the site itself, including the address bar, toolbars, the window controls and the frame around the bottom.
“With Google Chrome, we've designed the 'chrome' to be minimal so that users are primarily experiencing the sites and Web applications they're visiting.
When you launch a Web application from a desktop shortcut in Google Chrome, the address bar and other browser controls is removed so the 'chrome' is further reduced to just the application frame.”
Chrome has almost a retro feel to it, as if this is how Web browsing should have been 10 years ago, during a (relatively) simpler time, when the Internet for the masses was still new and all about exploring interesting sites rather than having a knee-slapping night of entertainment finding the grossest videos available on YouTube.
Both are speedy; Chrome is faster
I did some initial testing of both Web browsers on a year-old ThinkPad running Windows Vista. Chrome is available for both Vista and XP; Google says versions of Chrome are in the works for the Mac and Linux operating systems.
I also use Safari on a Mac, and Firefox on both the Mac and the PC. Firefox remains my preferred browser for now on both operating systems, having proven itself as relatively stable.
I found both Chrome and Internet Explorer 8 to work quickly, although Chrome, less laden with add-ons, moves at lightning speed.
Its basic interface shows a Web address bar, back and forward buttons, a refresh button and two menus, one for tools and another to handle items such as creating new tabs, new windows and copying and pasting. (By way of comparison, to do those same functions in IE means using three different menus.)
In Internet Explorer, the Web site tabs remain located below the address bar, as they are in Firefox. Chrome puts the tabs above the address bar, giving a truer appearance of file folders in a cabinet.
I’ve never had good luck with having more than two tabs open at once in Internet Explorer before it hangs, in contrast to Firefox. Both Chrome and IE 8 seem to handle multiple tabs with no issues.
In IE 8, Microsoft has added “crash recovery” for tab crashes, so that when they do happen, the tab is restored and and the Web site reloaded as you had it. I’m happy to say I didn’t need to use crash recovery, and had six tabs open at once without incident, a record in my IE experiences.
Quick, visual snapshot
Chrome’s home page is worth the download experience alone. It gives you a visual snapshot of your nine most-visited Web sites, making it easy to go back to them at any time. It also displays a handy list of recent bookmarks, and recently closed tabs, within easy click range on the home page.
Chrome and Internet Explorer 8 both have Web address bars that try to anticipate what you want to search for, or where you want to go, as soon as you type in a word. Chrome calls its auto-completion feature “Omnibox,” and IE 8’s is “Smart Address Bar.” Both of these worked well.
Both also have stealth surfing modes, but odds are neither will let you escape the eyes of a forensic examiner if your computer is confiscated.
Chrome’s is called “Incognito” mode, which you can slip into at any time by clicking on the same menu you use for creating a new tab. Google is quite clear about Incognito’s features.
“Browsing in Incognito mode only keeps Google Chrome from storing information about the Web sites you’ve visited. The Web sites you visit may still have records of your visit,” Google let me know before I enabled Incognito. “Any files saved to your computer will still remain on your computer.”
IE 8’s program is “InPrivate Browsing,” located in the Tools menu. InPrivate Browsing “ensures that history, temporary Internet files and cookies are not recorded on user’s PC after browsing,” according to Microsoft.
Internet Explorer 8 probably holds more excitement and interest for Web developers and IT managers than everyday Web users. Microsoft has added a lot under the hood to make IE 8 beefier in terms of security and Web development tools.
But for those of us who want a fast, no-nonsense Web-browsing experience, Chrome is a terrific option. Its ease of use does take some getting used to — imagine that! — and it’s an appealing entry into the competitive Web browsing market.