Sunday, May 2, 2010

Google Chrome and Firefox | User experience | Implications for the Open Web

Google Chrome has been branded as the Browser of the future.

It runs each web page in a separate tab to avoid Browser crashes. It uses javascript interpreter RHINO that is fast. It uses Webkit as its rendering engine the same one used by Apple browser Safari. It is open source. All very good additions to solve issues that have plagued Firefox for a while.

It even allows only one tab for web pages that use Adobe supported file formats such as PDF and Swf, restricting them from using all the memory and computing resources. Another smart choice. However, this causes problems for user like me who receive all the official communication in the form of PDF files and I have no choice except to open Firefox browser to see multiple PDF files.

Chrome developers claim that it has an improved User interface. In some ways it is true because this is how my top part of the two Browser look

Chrome Top Tool Bar

Please click on image for enlarged view


and here is how the Firefox tool bar looks

Please click on image for enlarged view


It is obvious that Chrome allows more area for web page display by not allowing to place toolbars. Which is good and bad at the same time. Like I can live without Google and Stumble upon tool bars but I use Compete tool bar to check web site statistics I am visiting. It shows up at the bottom right corner of my Firefox window like this: showing people count and compete.com rank of the website :


I guess I will have to wait for Compete to develop a Chrome extension to encapsulate the functioning of their Firefox toolbar.

Chrome Javascript interpreter is fast but lacks accuracy. Here is the Gmail tool bar in Firefox

Please click on image for enlarged view

Showing the icon to insert image in the body of the e-mail created using Google Gmail, a feature that has been around in other e-mail clients for ages.

And here is Gmail toolbar in Google Chrome completely missing the "image insert" icon.


Please click on image for enlarged view


The lack of image insert icon cripples a useful feature of inserting images within the body of e-mail. User of Google Chrome have to sent images as an attachment to the e-mail which people may open or may not or simply miss the attached images. It also interrupts the flow of reading the e-mail content and spoils the experience of the user.

It also shows that Google Chrome's Javascript engine lacks consistency and its designer have cut corners to gain speed while losing accuracy.

Another minor annoyance is the way "find" function works in Google Chrome. There are times when a search function is performed for the same term on multiple web pages . In case of Firefox you can open a find box as shown here

and then you can keep searching for whatever you are looking for within the web page and once done one can easily kill the "Find Box"

In case of chrome the "Find in the page" menu item shown below has to be opened for every web page again and again from the top right drop down menu bar. It does not stay open as it does in Firefox

These are some of the examples that show that web based application are good enough and mostly work but are inconsistent causing aggravation to their users.

I think we are heading towards multiple browsers where each browser will work the best with the Browser's creators products and will work good enough with other web applications. In the past there were two browsers: Internet Explorer and Netscape/Firefox with opera having a minuscule share of Browser's market. Expect to see many different Browsers branded by each company and running the applications from that company. Each having little hooks to improve the performance of html, CSS and Javascript rendering for its applications. This has been the case all along but at least in the past most of the companies paid the lip service to web standards. That may not be the case in the future.

Google is promoting open source development and open standards in the form of html5, CSS and new and improved Javascript engine to keep the Web open. However, the problem is that Javascript has been an unreliable language to develop web based applications. It lacks the performance of native applications and cross browser compatibility as seen above. Google's own web application Gmail tool bar appears different in two different browsers and both are open source browsers and directly supported by Google financially.

This is where Flash had an edge and still does but now being pushed out from the vendors of the platform owner. Apple has banned Flash on its application development platform. Google is playing nice with Flash but only so much. As you can see that Google Chrome will allow only one tab for Adobe application per Google Chrome window and it throws error window for any Adobe application that is not functioning nicely within the Chrome tab sandbox. That does not bode well for the future Adobe products those create files in PDF and SWF format.

While people were busy watching Browser war between Microsoft and Ntescape, Apple has quietly developed a complete computing stack and devices that perform better than the open development stack. Iphone applications perform better than equivalent application developed using browser based applications that use HTML5/CSS/JAVASCRIPT

This is precisely what is Google's Achille's heel. They have many web application who perform well enough but inconsistent, suffer performance penalty and can easily be replaced by applications that are better performing on computing and mobile devices.

People thought that Google was competing with Microsoft but that really is not true. Going forward they will be competing with Apple for applications, software development environment and mobile computing devices and Facebook/Twitter for people's attention. There is a very narrow window of opportunity to improve the HTML5/CSS/JAVASCRIPT stack for front end application development because that is the user facing end. User does not care how elegant the back end is. If they failed they will be the Unix of the future that every power user loves but Apple gets all the users who do not care about the elegance of the software but do care about how it helps them in getting their job done quickly without showing its quirks.

I remember distinctly Apple releasing Web Objets standard/enterprise way back in 1996. I used it back then and it had all the functionality of developing web applications. It even had Objective C as part of the development environment. They have been at the web development for the long time and their efforts are finally bearing the fruits.

I would love to see Google succeed because they are supporting open web development but at the same time they do have to get serious about developing products that are competitive and do perform. The coolness factor can take them only so far after some time its effects wears off especially when user struggle with sluggish performance, inconsistencies within there offerings.

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