Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Initial Experience with Google's Chrome Browser for Linux

Yesterday I installed the first generally available beta release of the Chrome browser for Linux. Initially it seemed OK, and a friend asked for a review, so here it is. Sadly, however, I am back to using FireFox. Chrome isn't ready to displace FireFox yet. At least not for me. Maybe someday.

The issues I encountered include:

  • There is no "Open All in Tabs" option in the bookmark menus. This may just be something I do, but every morning I use:
          Bookmarks | morning links | open all in tabs
    to bring up at least a dozen web sites that I read while I wake up and get ready to face the day.  I find it handy to have that ability, but that feature is not present on Chrome.  For me, while this isn't a deal breaker, it does make it less likely I'll stay with the browser.

  • Java didn't work for me at installation.  Javascript is fine, I think, but Java is dead. Chrome attempted to pull all of the configuration information from my FireFox installation, but apparently there is something about the Java config on my Linux machine (running Ubuntu 8.04 LTS and FireFox 3.0.15) that it didn't understand or like.  I posted this problem to the Google Chrome Help forum and so far the only response has been several other people saying they have the same issue.  Maybe there is a fix for this, but if so I don't yet know it.  For now, this is a serious issue.

  • This isn't a big deal, but there isn't as much control over fonts with Chrome as there is with FireFox.  That's a blessing and a curse, of course.  It's easy to screw up someone's CSS based website by telling FireFox that sites cannot override your font choices and/or selecting font sizes different from those the site expects, but I live with it and make use of it regularly.  I could live with what Chrome offers, but it's an irritant.

  • I cannot yet tell if Chrome is actually faster or more stable than FireFox.  My network connection isn't stellar, so delays are often the result of that rather than anything going on in the browser.  Plus, one of the major speed ups is supposed to be the way it runs local scripts, but Java isn't working, so...

  • I cannot get Chrome to display PDF files in the browser.  This is a significant problem, and once again FireFox handles it just fine.  If a link points to a PDF file FireFox opens it up in Acrobat (which I installed myself a long time ago, and whose configuration Chrome should have imported).  When this happens I get the Acrobat tool bar inside the browser window and can look at the document.  Sadly, however, Chrome just downloads the PDF file and then stares at me.  I was able to right click and save a copy of the PDF, but that's not as useful as viewing the document in the browser in many cases.  For me, Chrome for Linux strikes out there.  That said it's still a beta, and there might be something odd about my Linux install that keeps it from working out of the box.  Still, this is a problem I cannot work around.

  • At least one site doesn't work with Chrome that I know of, and my testing is pretty limited in that regard so far.  Now, I admit the site - a registration site for a non-profit I am affiliated with - is not setup to deal with FireFox all that well either, but it generates PDF files in some cases, and that breaks down as mentioned above.  Beyond that, however, after encountering the PDF load failure I was unable to get Chrome to download the PDF for external viewing.  It might have been user error, but it bugged me.  I had to switch back to FireFox to check on something because of it.

  • Finally, they've done some odd things with a menu and the way new tabs are opened up.  I think they've missed the UI boat as a result.  First, the menu issue: in FireFox if I put the cursor over a link and right click the top two menu choices are "Open in a New Window" followed by "Open in a New Tab" in that order.  Chrome reverses those menu options, so I was perpetually opening new windows with it when I meant to open new tabs.  That's an irritation that I could get over, though.  Yes, it's different, but yes, the most common option should be first.  And I suspect most of us actually open more things in tabs than windows these days.  With time I am sure it would become natural.

    It's what happens when I actually manage to get a new tab to open, though, that bugs me.  Say you're in FireFox and have 3 pages open, in tab1, tab2, and tab3.  You're currently viewing tab2 and you open two more pages (in tab4 & tab5) via the right click, "open in new tab" menu option.  When you're done you wind up with tabs arranged like this:

    tab1  tab2*  tab3  tab4  tab5

    (Tab2 is starred because it is the current tab.)  And that arrangement makes logical sense.  New tabs open on the rightmost end of the list, and they open in the order I make it happen.  If you do the exact same thing in Chrome for Linux, though, you get this arrangement:

    tab1  tab2*  tab5  tab4  tab3

    In Chrome new tabs open immediately to the right of the tab containing the current page, and they shift all other tabs to the right in the process.  That's just wrong, at least for me.  My brain is (more or less) wired to think of things linearly.  if I open tabs I expect them to appear in the order I open them, not the reverse of that order, and I expect to find them on the end of the list for easy access.

    I'm afraid Google just got this one wrong.  The FireFox behavior here is actually the right one.  As with some of these other issues, though, it is something I could probably live with given time.
That's the list of issues so far, and it's enough to have moved me back to FireFox for the forseeable future.  I'll look at later betas of Chrome and see if it improves, but for now I have to say there are a couple of serious issues and a number of nits that bug me.  It's not worth changing.

Google gets a lot of things right in my view, but not with Chrome for Linux.  At least not yet.

1 comment:

  1. w it's been awhile since you first posted this, but I just ran across your blog from a link on the Chrome help site re:java install. I agree with everything you have stated here except for one point: the tabs. Here is why:

    I, also, start my day with a few select sites I like to look at first thing in the morning. If there is a link on one site that interests me, I will 'open in new tab'. I, personally, like the fact it opens right next to the 'live' tab as the tabs further to the right are totally different pages. I can 'open new tab' for anything I want to read further and then follow from the site I am reading rather than having to figure out how many tabs were open and where my first 'new tab' from the current site is. I always end up having to guess where I just opened that tab on Firefox, since I can end up with 20-30+ tabs open. In Chrome, I know that the link I wanted that is related directly to the page I am reading is the very next tab to the right, making it much easier to follow.

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