Non-politics: Google Chrome, first in a series (updated)

If you're interested in software just because it's interesting, you should definitely check out Google's new web browser, Chrome, at the download page here.

If you're interested mainly in using your computer, rather than tinkering with it, there's no huge rush. Also, Chrome is Windows-only for now, XP or Vista; Mac version in the works.
(From the wonderful comic book-style user's guide:)


Updated releases of Firefox and Internet Explorer usually have obvious features and display tweaks that let you know you're dealing with something new. Both Firefox 3 and IE8 look different from their predecessors.

The most important new features in Chrome are under the hood, as we'll get to in a while. From the layman's point of view, there are a few interesting though non-revolutionary features.
For instance, you enter web addresses and search terms into the same "omnibox,"  rather than having a separate box for web searches. Chrome uses "tabs," like most other modern browsers -- but you can drag-and-drop any tab to create its own standalone session.  When you start up the browser or open a new tab, it displays thumbnails of your most frequently-visited sites to see if you want to go there. Also, there's an "incognito" mode, if you want to go to a web site but leave no trace in your browser history or in cookies from that site. Google says that this is for people who want to shop secretly for gifts for loved ones. Yes, I'm sure that's the main way it will be used.

Offsetting these are a number of small inconveniences. A trivial-sounding one that is perhaps most consequential for non-fanatic users is that (as when making any browser change) you maywill* need to re-enter login information for numerous sites that require IDs and passwords. Also, Chrome is not yet very good at organizing bookmarks.

The real significance of Chrome is in its architecture, which I'll discuss later on but whose central point is allowing each browser session to run entirely on its own. For example: if you open multiple windows with Firefox or IE, you'll see (via Task Manager) that more and more of your system's memory is tied up by the browser. If you close some of the windows, that memory is still tied up, until you shut Firefox/IE altogether.** Similarly, a freeze in one Firefox/IE*** session can tie up all browser windows; but in Chrome each session runs on its own.

That's enough for now. For the big picture, I enthusiastically refer all readers to the Chrome Comic Book, which becomes technical pretty quickly but does a thorough job of explaining the idea behind the browser: 

More later.
UPDATE: As advertised, this is not meant to be a full tech rundown of Chrome. My main point is this simple triage judgment: if you like playing around with software, you'll like playing around with KindleChrome. [oops] If you don't, or if you use a Mac, you might as well wait for a while, for further refinements.

But to address several points I deliberately left out before, but that have come up in reader mail, tied to footnote marks above:

* In theory, you can import all your bookmarks and passwords from your current browser. Importing the bookmarks worked fine for me on Chrome. Importing the passwords was dicier. Many sites requiring a registration -- say, -- did not recognize me as a "known" user when I first logged on via Chrome, requiring re-entry of all the info.

** As the Chrome Comic Book very clearly explains, the steady increase in memory claims by Firefox and IE is not "supposed" to happen, but it inevitably does, because of the entropy-like process called "memory leak." Check out the comic book -- oops, graphic novel -- for more.

*** The latest beta of IE8 has some similar features designed to isolate processes or freeze-ups in one browser tab from other browser sessions, and to permit "private" browsing that leaves no trace.

All of which may reinforce the main point: check this out if you're a software enthusiast, and don't if you're a civilian.

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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.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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