Non-political: more on Google Chrome

Three updates for the price of one!

1) Basic up-down decision: After a week of using Chrome on my Windows machine and under VMware Fusion on my Macs, I restate my original triage judgment with even more conviction. If you're interested in software, by all means check it out. If you mainly want to get your work done, don't bother -- yet. For ordinary non-nerd civilian users, the improvement touches in Chrome are outweighed by the inconveniences. For instance: can't use any of the numerous invaluable "extensions" for Firefox. And RSS feeds work poorly if at all.

2) Nerds only: This article in Network World does a very nice job of explaining the philosophy behind and implications of Chrome's technological design.

3) Browser nerds only, concerning i-Rider: I have long had a soft spot for a $29 browser called iRider, from the company Wymea Bay -- which, as it happens, is based in California rather than Hawaii. When introduced five years ago, iRider was way ahead of Firefox and IE i browser-convenience features and still has a number of slick touches, mainly for dealing with a lot of open pages at once.  (Feature overview here.)

And to illustrate the company's "cut the BS spirit," here is what its page says about compatibility with different operating systems (it's Windows-only):

As will surprise no one who follows the technology press, we still cannot recommend Windows Vista. If you're using Windows XP, we'd advise you not to upgrade to Vista, and buyers of new computers should consider having XP installed, which is an option many manufacturers still offer.

After the jump, on a nerdy-nerds only basis but very interesting for that audience, a message I received from Ken Broomfield. He is iRider's founder and earlier was one of the key developers of the indispensable XTree Gold. He has a note about the ironies and the potential of Google's introducing Chrome. Skip if you're bored by inside-baseball details - but if you're interested, read on.

Ken Broomfield writes:

 There's plenty of irony in Google's effort to create a robust client-side platform for web-based ("cloud") applications, mainly because Netscape and Sun tried and failed to do exactly this over ten years ago.  Part of this effort was led by a guy named Eric Schmidt, then at Sun, and used Java, a technology that's superior to the Javascript language that's now being used largely because Java never quite worked on the client (i.e., in the user's browser).

So, Google's effort to create a good Javascript environment in Chrome -- which is now sorely needed -- should have been unnecessary, and sophisticated web applications should have appeared a long time ago. Multiple efforts to create client-side web application platforms are now under way, with Balkanizing effect: Google with Chrome (Bosnia), Adobe with Flash/Flex/AIR (Croatia), and Microsoft with Silverlight (Serbia) [Microsoft had to be Serbia :)]. That all these platforms are inferior to what ought to have been achieved years ago with Java is a tragedy....

Little stuff:

-- On additional tabs using more and more memory, this is true in Firefox and IE, but iRider has sophisticated memory management to limit memory usage even with hundreds of pages open. Free memory is utilized to speed access to open pages, but released as other apps need it. (Everyone misses this, but it took a lot of effort.)

-- Firefox, IE and iRider can leak memory, though Firefox is notoriously worse than the others here. (Opera, another browser the press now ignores, does a great job in this department.) But often what seem to be leaks can also be mere memory fragmentation, as when a room seems full but is actually just cluttered. It's not clear that Chrome solves the fragmentation problem, which is trickier. (The paged virtual memory environment in modern OSes mitigates some of the problems of fragmentation, but also makes it trickier to solve completely.).

-- Entering search queries in the Address Bar has been possible in IE since version 5 and iRider from the start. And in iRider, to quickly run multiple searches, say "Palin moose", "Palin bridge to nowhere" and "Palin Alaska secession", hit Shift-Enter after each.

The good news is that Chrome will be open source and may be very useful to us and others.


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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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