Google’s attempt to muscle in on the browser market, and to take on the dominance of both Internet Explorer and the ever-growing Mozilla Firefox, certainly made a splash when it launched Chrome in 2008.
But that splash – and the millions of words written about the browser – failed to convert into anything more than 1 percent market penetration. Granted, that’s no small feat in itself, but it’s a certainty that Google is looking to fry bigger fish. As such it’s readying Chrome 2, which it’s now released in beta form pending a full release later this year.
At first the browser’s characteristics and presentation appear the same, too. As with a growing number of applications, as part of the installation it asks if it can be your default program of choice, and then it goes about offering to transfer settings and suchlike. However, it’s still a quick and breezy installation for a browser that retains a light system footprint.
Aesthetically the browser still keeps the same ethos, too. With no heavy menu at the top it’s the address bar that handles the bulk of the work, from searching to direct navigation. More advanced menus are available via small drop-down icons, and tabs appear at the top of the screen, rather than a little way down it like Internet Explorer and Firefox. Furthermore, you can still make your home page a collection of thumbnails of your most visited sites, which, while borrowed from Opera, remains a nice and useful touch.
So what’s changed? The most obvious initial difference is the speed of the browser, which contrasts well and currently gives it an advantage over its rivals. It zips around, only hindered really by the most Flash-heavy of sites, but even then it copes well.
Compared to the original Chrome, there’s a slight but noticeable improvement, and not at the expense of that aforementioned system footprint. The full screen and zooming functionality is logical and tidy (although hardly radical) and it remains a friendly browser to use, with some solid thinking behind it.
But its flexibility, certainly against Firefox and Opera, is constrained by the lack of expansion possibilities thus far. There’s no market for extensions and add-ons here, and while that keeps the core browser pure and slimline, it is nonetheless a notable restriction. There are other omissions, too, with RSS support still to be implemented, and we did pick up one or two small stability issues as we were using it.
Yet the problem Google may face here is that Chrome 2 simply feels more like Chrome 1.5. There are no big, necessary new features and it feels like a tuned up version of what we already have. Granted, new things have been added, but these are present in Chrome’s competition, too.
Which leaves speed as the compelling reason to give it a try. That’s not a bad reason, either, but as with the first version, it’s a useful second browser to have on a machine but lacks the punch and possibilities of Firefox.