So after using Google chrome for a few weeks, it's finally time for me to give a proper review of it, both as a browser and as a strategic move by Google. Let's start with the technical stuff:
Chrome is fast. Like crazy fast. I'm not sure exactly how it manages this trick -- I suspect preloading of the browser -- but there's no denying the results. Firefox takes 10 seconds or so to launch, and chrome is up within a few seconds.
My primary use of Chrome has been for Gmail: I hit the "create application shortcuts" link for Gmail on the first day and it's rapidly become the primary way I use Gmail (at least on Windows). It's just so much faster and more reliable. I assume that speed boost is partially from the use of Gears, but I'm not clued-in on what they're using gears to do, so I could be wrong about that.
The home page multi-pane view is a nice touch (stolen from Opera). The lack of a separate search box -- just an address bar which takes either URLs or search terms -- I initially thought I was going to hate, but my disaste rapidly faded: if I can't remember the URL exactly I'm going to search anyway, so combining the two makes sense. Firefox's awesome bar is only a few tweaks away from working this way. I worry that it will further blur the purpose of URLs for the average user, but the truth is that the average user is already completely confused by URLs that look like www.bankofamerica.stealsyourpassword.com so the battle is probably already lost.
There is not too much bad about chrome. It's a crazy fast, reasonably stable browser, comparable in feel and utility to Opera -- and that's a key comparison, as I'll mention later. Also like Opera, it also doesn't have an extension architecture comparable to Firefox's own (at least, yet), and that's also a very important distinction.
There's plenty of ugly. The actual chrome of Chrome is full of really weird decisions.
- The huge blue bar at the top when the window isn't maximized (which on my giant monitors is all of the time) is just a waste of space.
- The lack of a page load indicator is irritating, even on relatively fast connections. I need to know if the page is broken or still loading, Mr. Browser.
As a strategic move
It seems clear -- and Googlers I've spoken to tacitly confirm -- that Google is not really expecting Chrome to gain significant market traction as a standalone browser. Like Safari for Windows, this is primarily a move aimed at web developers and, even more specifically, at the small community of browser developers. For web developers, it's a glimpse at the future, a sandbox to try out web apps that stretch the capabilities of mainstream browsers. For browser manufacturers, it is a shot across their bows: get innovating, or we will move into your market and kick your asses.
Definitely no mainstream consumers will adopt this browser. Google isn't promoting it heavily outside of the developer community, and even if they did it's not clear that would help. Users who are clueless will stay with whatever browser Microsoft or Apple give them. Users who are not clueless will be loath to switch unless there's a compelling value proposition, and in the case of Firefox it's usually some extension that is specifically useful to them. Chrome, like Opera, is simply a good browser with innovative ideas but not a big enough gain in utility to justify occasional incompatibilities and the hassle of switching -- after all, Opera has been noticeably faster than most mainstream browsers for ages, and nobody uses Opera.