I Feel the NEED, The Need for Speed

How do you get users to adopt a piece of software that is ugly and unintuitive? You make it stupidly fast.

That’s exactly what Google has done with Chrome 10. When the beta was announced, I read up and saw what seemed to be unreal benchmarks for the javascript speed. Since removing Flash from my Mac (thus removing it from Safari) I have kept an up-to-date version of Chrome for accessing the rare Flash site and I decided to see if I could ‘switch’ to the new Chrome 10.

I am happy to say that Chrome 10 is much faster than Safari, but still ugly as sin and a touch unpolished in many facets. It’s not just the ugliness factor of Chrome that I find troubling, there are some very real tradeoffs that I faced in moving from Safari to Chrome.

The UI

I don’t love the way Safari looks, but I do like that it feels right on Mac OS X. Chrome though just looks out of place — not in the way that a ported Windows app looks, but it very much is not like the “others”. Here are the main gripes that I have with the UI:

  • Tabs at the top. I didn’t like it when the beta versions of Safari did this and I still don’t care for it in Chrome.
  • No toolbar customization. I can’t remove the back/forward and refresh buttons, even though I never click them. Likewise I can’t remove the icons that are added when I install a new extension — I don’t know what that crap is.
  • The bookmarks bar is fine, except that it insists on showing a small icon next to the name. This is probably fine for ‘normal’ users, but I have a ton of folders and bookmarklets in the bookmarks bar — meaning I see white paper icons next to the bookmarklets and goofy outdated blue folder icons for all the folders. 1

Again, for the most part these are minor annoyances, ones that I can work around and eventually learn to live with.

Speed

The difference in speed is unreal. It is without a doubt leaps and bounds faster than Safari in practical use. Visiting sites that utilize Typekit (like this blog) will really show you the difference — they just load faster. What really won me over though was the speed that Chrome loads my Mint stats. Those panes used to take a good while to load up in Safari, now they just snap into place — it’s surreal.

It doesn’t matter to me if things actually are faster, or if the speed is just perceived (meaning Google is using visual tricks to make it appear to load sites faster) all I know is that everything feels faster. If you don’t believe me try it for yourself because it is noticeable right away.

H.264

I had forgotten that Google decided to no longer support HTML5 + H.264 as a standard. I have enabled a Flash blocking plugin for Chrome, and I really do miss all the nice smooth video playback that I got out of Safari. This is the biggest trouble spot for me so far: how do I playback video smoothly without overheating my Air? It was no problem in Safari because 99% of the time I could watch beautiful HTML5 delivered media, but Chrome throws a wrench in this process.

So now where I used to reserve Chrome for Flash playback — I now reserve Safari for general video playback. A rather silly setup.

Tab Behavior

One of the greatest things that I found in Chrome (besides the speed) is that when you have multiple tabs open you can open another and when you close the new tab you are taken back to the last tab you were viewing. This is incredibly neat and very helpful when you have a bunch of stuff open. Safari does not do this and has always been a point of contention for me — I used to prefer to open a new window at times so I didn’t “lose” the tab I was reading.

Downloads Bar

A downloads window makes seeing downloads easy, as does a progress bar. A huge bar across the bottom of the screen, or a separate tab to view downloads, is just silly feeling. Further a dial like indicator of download progress is unhelpful. I also don’t like the way a single bit of data is displayed on the downloads page — hate it in fact.

I don’t download a ton, but that little arrow animation that appears when you start a download isn’t helping anyone. I mean a huge bar already appears at the bottom of the screen — why do you need both?

Opening Bookmark Folders

This is a feature I use in Safari all the time — click on a bookmarks folder in the bookmarks bar and open all the links in tabs. I love doing that first thing in the morning to check in on a bunch of sites before I dive into email. Chrome doesn’t do this as far as I can tell — that presents a large annoyance to me every morning.

[Updated: 2.25.11 at 6:37 AM] I am told that right clicking the folder icon will allow me to do this. So you can strike this one.

Surprisingly, you can change the default search engine from Google to whatever you want it to be (unlike how Safari restricts the options). For me that meant changing from Google to the excellent and growing DuckDuckGo search engine — I am loving this feature.

Extensions

Chrome may have had extensions long before Safari, but Safari has better extensions. There were a ton of them that I couldn’t find to replace simple extensions I have for Safari.

Result

By the time you read this I will have switched back to Safari. I really like Chrome 10 and the speed it brings, but it still is not quite there. Don’t let the ‘10’ version number fool you, because Chrome is just now starting to feel like a 1.0 version. This is endemic to the way that Google operates, luckily version 15 is probably just around the corner.

The bottom line is that while Chrome may load things much faster than Safari — I work much slower in Chrome and that means Safari overall is still faster for me.

  1. Outdated in the sense that I hate the default OS X folder icon.
Originally posted for members on: February 25, 2011
Follow along on RSS, App.net, or Twitter.
~I would appreciate it if you considered becoming a member.~