The Terribly Awful, No Good, Very Bad Browser

 

Since losing my job I've come to tend the Internet like other people comb a Zen garden, carefully reading over links and shuffling around my bookmarks. Fed up with Firefox, the geek’s go-to engine for getting around online I decided to try out Google Chrome.

I know, its a few months late and in truth I started with Chrome as soon as it was available to the public to see if Google could do with browsers what it did with search.

The short answer is no.

There is no revolution to be televised, there is no great leap forward. Chrome fails not because it doesn't work (it does), but because like every other browser it is full of irksome quirks.

For all Google's lip service to the corporate motto of "Do No Evil," Chrome is something of an insidious fifth column for some of the more annoying aspects of the Internet.

I left Firefox for one reason, even after the third candidate there was still a problem with memory leaks. Where you would open new tabs - and boy howdy, do I love to open new tabs - and Firefox would decide that when you closed them that it really shouldn’t release that memory back to the system. Couple with Windows's tendency to accumulate junk as it runs, this could make for some unpleasantly slow computer experiences according to my anecdotal data.

Chrome promised a way out of that, by running each tab as a separate instance of the browser. So instead of having one copy of Chrome opened with 15 tabs, you'd have 15 virtual copies of Chrome running and when you shut one down it would release its tasty memory for more important things like Flash games and word processors.

Through some sacred magic of numbers and algorithms, it manages to do that well enough. Apart from when some huge plug-ins crash, it's easy enough to just leave a tab behind because something wasn't working and the sad faced 8-bit folder appears.

As I began to use Chrome, I began to notice little things that were missing. Eventually these little things would drive me insane and begin to hate the open source browser I had switched to, even as I worked myself into a rut with it.

First and most apparent is the lack of native support for RSS (really simple syndication).

That is to say, I can't make a bookmark that aggregates "feeds" from different Web sites telling me about their latest content and newest widgets. It's technology that's been around for five years and is great for checking out blogs in the morning, checking out news web sites or even web comics. If you attempt to peer into this world through Chrome out of the box, you will find a land of madness and garbled text and mark up scripts.

This was odd since both Firefox and the much trod upon Internet Explorer have this. I had assumed that in the past 5 years (which is about 500 years in Internet time), that it had become a standard feature that the digerati (whom Chrome was clearly aimed at) could not do without.

Second are the options, out of the box I want to be able to teach my browser all the right tricks. That I want this to open in a new tab when I click on it, that I want these security settings in particular, that I don't want Active X showing up (except if I really need it on a super trusted Web site). Chrome, in the name of simplicity offers few options to me and what options there are, were not always well laid out (for example rather than checking for updates from the tools drop down menu, or in the options menu, you go into About Google Chrome). Also there's no way to say, create a safe browsing space for children.

My real problem with the browser, which killed the mood faster than a woman telling you - in the middle of a romantic evening - that the Holocaust was a lie, was with pop ups.

Now with pop ups and pop unders, and side poppers it's always been a bit like whack-a-mole. Once someone finds a way to block one set of the ads, they'll come up with a new method of delivering them and we'll all have to start from scratch (which often won't be until the next update cycle). That I can deal with since it's often a simple matter to shut down the new window that just showed up.

Chrome, in my experience, does not actually have this technology. What is has is a pop up minimizer.

When browsing say, Surfthechannel.com, Chrome sends the little pop ups to the bottom right hand corner of the window like they've just done something bad. They're still there, just in a little corner crying quietly to themselves about how you're a horrible parent and that they're going to run away as soon as they get the chance.

You don't really notice it until one of the pop ups decides that it wants to play a video ad or just about anything with noise (a robotic woman shouting "Win a free Xbox 360 by spanking the monkey"). Just like that little kid in the corner, the pop up might be out of the way but you can still hear it when it acts up.

One particular treat was when a site decided to open five instances of the same video ad (for Swiffer dusters). I barely noticed the little box in the corner and moved on to the next tab, and after a few seconds they began to play in a round, one starting followed by another a second later until I was mad from the din.

All told, Chrome has managed to steal a lot of the good ideas that are out there from more popular browsers. Google's team has managed to use hindsight to good effect when coming up with its tabbed browsing, porn mode, and its snappy performance. I suppose that's why I've stuck with it, in spite of some of the frustrations that seem to stand out when wrestling with this browser.

They all have their flaws. Firefox eats memory like I eat cupcakes, Internet Explorer doesn't support web standards and Safari tries to install itself on your computer without you noticing but with smart browsing habits and enough plug-ins it's possible to fix any of these problems.