FAQ: The Vitals on Google's New Browser, Chrome

Is it a Chrome-tastic browser, or just another app? Here's a look at the key questions and answers for those interested in giving Chrome a spin.

Google Inc. ended one of the Web's longest-running rumors today when it released Chrome, a Web browser it's been working on for the last two years.

But while Tuesday's news was all over the Web, the debut is only part of the story.

How, for instance, will Google's push into building a browser affect Windows, Microsoft's golden goose? Will other browser makers just roll over and play dead? Hint: don't count on it.

Those questions, like the ones that follow, simply scratch the surface. We're certain to revisit Chrome and Google's plans for it, in future FAQs. But this one will get us going.

Where do I get Chrome? You can download the beta from Google's Chrome page, which will only offer the download if rendered on a Windows XP or Vista machine, or in a virtual machine on a Mac or Linux running XP or Vista.

Chrome, a 7MB download, is currently available only for XP and Vista.

What languages? Out the gate, Chrome is available in 39 languages, including English, Chinese, German, Japanese, Russian, Spanish and a slew of others.

But nothing for the Mac? What's up with that? All we know at this point is what Google's disclosed, which isn't much. "We're hard at work building versions for Mac and Linux," the company's heads of engineering and product management said Monday when they confirmed that Google would be shipping Chrome today.

However, Google is collecting e-mail addresses from Mac users who want to be notified when a Mac OS X-specific version is available, hinting that a Mac edition is closer to shipping than one for Linux.

Chrome will run on a Mac using Apple's dual-boot Boot Camp utility, or in a virtual machine created with the likes of Parallel Inc.'s Parallels Desktop for Mac or VMware Inc.'s Fusion.

How about Chrome for Linux? You're even more out of luck than people running Steve Jobs' operating system. The e-mail notification for Mac users -- but not for those running Linux -- is more than a hint. Chrome's developer notes spell out the bad news: "There is no [emphasis in original] working Chromium-based browser on Linux," says the build documentation, in red type within a bordered box, no less.

That must mean they're serious about "no" meaning, well, "no."

Should I bother? Computerworld's Barbara Krasnoff came away with mixed feelings, but in the end recommended that people try Chrome. "At the very least, it will offer a new take on the browsing experience."

And hey, it's free.

What's under the hood? WebKit, the same open-source rendering engine used by Apple Inc.'s Safari, also powers Chrome. And Google execs also credited Mozilla's Firefox with providing some unspecified "components" inside Chrome.

Oddly enough, or perhaps not odd at all, Apple was the only one of the four major browser makers -- the others are Microsoft, Mozilla and Opera -- that didn't bother responding to requests for comment today on Chrome's introduction. Nor did the various WebKit blogs, including David Hyatt's "Surfin' Safari," bother to post entries about Chrome and its use of the engine.

How fast is Chrome? The jury's still out. Some testers who have run it through JavaScript benchmarks have reported out-of-this-world results. But others, including Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal -- as far as we know, the only reviewer who got an early look at Chrome -- dinged it for rendering slower than, say, Firefox on Windows.

That's our off-the-cuff impression, too. Trying it out in Windows XP, Chrome is no speed demon here, either.

What about its memory footprint? Is it as big a pig as IE8 Beta 2? Bigger, according to Craig Barth of Devil Mountain Software Inc., who just ran Chrome through the same performance test that he used Monday to name IE8 as "epically porcine."

"What we found was shocking," Barth said. "We discovered that it is Google Chrome, not Internet Explorer 8, that is the true memory consumption leader."

By his numbers, Chrome came very close to matching IE8 Beta 2 on peak memory use (324MB for Chrome, 332MB for IE8), but used more memory on average (267MB for Chrome versus 211MB for IE8).

Barth attributed the heftier memory appetite of Chrome to its multi-process tabbing model, where each tab is actually a separate iteration of the browser. "It's use of that model, which, according to Google, helps isolate failures and protect complex Web applications, [that] means that it will always use more memory than Firefox, IE 7 and similar, single-process browsers," he said.

We haven't had a chance to catch up yet with Barth for a conversation to drill into his data, but we plan to Wednesday.

Where do I go for Chrome support? Google's set up a Chrome Help Center here, but there's no support desk to phone or e-mail.

Instead, Chrome's support leans, like most of Google, toward self-help. The Center sports some online documentation, but for real problems, you should steer straight to the user-to-user forum where you can ask others questions and hope someone comes up with an answer.

This story, "FAQ: The Vitals on Google's New Browser, Chrome" was originally published by Computerworld .

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