Google's browser is a little over two years old, but it's making major waves on the web. This year, Chrome added extensions, a webapp "Store," stable Mac and Linux releases, and more. Here's what intrigued us all most about Chrome in 2010.
Short version of the short version included in this post: if you're happy with Firefox, it's not like there's some amazing, door-busting reason to jump over to Chrome (unless you just absolutely must have pinned tabs). But if you like speed, and don't have any beloved Firefox extensions you can't find an equivalent for, feel free to jump in.
These speed tests, put on occasionally by yours truly, are a big part of why we've come to appreciate Chrome's differences from the browser pack. You can read everywhere that Chrome is speedy, but does it make a difference in the second-by-second experience on your desktop? It certainly does, but we'll let the bar charts do the talking.
We waited, and waited, and then watched as the Chrome Web Store opened. After a few minutes of testing, we were left wondering what, exactly, we were looking at, besides shiny icons that simply linked to a page. Well, the Chrome Store does have some bona fide webapps in it, and these five apps are worth checking out on their own. Some have unique interfaces, others do amazing things without Flash, and some have offline storage capabilities.
Google's entire pitch for Chrome OS, and the netbooks that will eventually be sold with it, is that you can get actual work done using only a web browser. We put that to the test, as I used only a Chrome OS netbook as my primary work and home system. Email and simple writing, sure—but what about image editing, file moving, and other tasks? I came out impressed, but not without a few notes on the work-from-anywhere experience.
This pixel-size, browser-control-measuring comparison wasn't technically about Chrome, but, boy, it sure ended up looking that way. Chrome is the browser with the most respect for your screen space in nearly every test-windowed, full-screen, and especially with its tabs-on-the-side feature enabled.
When the Chrome Extension Gallery first opened up, we took a skeptic but hopeful eye to it. Could Chrome match Firefox for the sheer power of its extensions, the clever uses and novel uses developers could come up with? Not at first; at least, not entirely. But there were some winners out of the gate, and then a few weeks later, too. A "Better Gmail" knock-off showed up, YouTube fixers, a "session manager" that was seriously missing from Chrome in the first place (and still is, to an extent), and even some old favourites, like Web of Trust.
Firefox was long the browser you used if you wanted to customise the web to fit your improved vision of it. But Chrome's come a long way, and we found that with the right extensions and tools, you could block ads, improve links, only use Flash when you really needed it, and prevent crappy formatting from giving you busy work, among other great fixes.
The headline kind of says it all. Enable "Instant" in Chrome, and pages load before you're even done typing their name, searches fly off as fast as you can think, and it generally feels like you're interfacing as directly as possible with the web as can be. Sadly, Google's taken Instant out of most Chrome versions, but we're hoping it makes its way back soon.
Google's launch presentations for new products tend to range a bit wider and more conceptually than most. After the search giant unveiled the first working version of Chrome OS and some "test pilot" hardware, we tried to put together the what, when, where, how, and especially why of Chrome OS—both what it was, and where Google wants it go to.
Chrome's own New Tab/Start page is a pretty utilitarian thing—bookmarks, your most visited stuff, and, just recently, some Apps. Incredible Start Page makes it much more personal, offering space for notes, photos, links, and a bookmarks/history listing that's laid out like an office wall.
Monitors these days are more devoted to the widescreen view. For some screens, that means ever bit of vertical space counts. If you'd rather have more space for vertical scrolling and reading, you can mount your Chrome tabs on the side. Since this post, it's become just a bit easier to do—open about:flags in your browser, and enable the side-mounted tabs.
If you're going to spend so much time with the new tab page, you should have it look nice. And Speed Dial makes it look, well, very nice. Turn your most-visited tabs and bookmarks into stylish buttons, and clean up everything else on the page with this handy extension.
Now that the Web Store's officially open, getting stylized webapps into Chrome isn't all that hard—there's a link right on the new tab page, actually. But knowing where Chrome stashes the specially-packed folders for webapps means you can actually make your own. Seriously! Poke around and see.
Chrome OS, at least at the moment, doesn't look too much like it did in these early shots from "design ideas." But it's fun to look at the direction where designers once thought Chrome might head off into, and wonder if it might eventually make it back there.
The web's a bit roomier on your Chrome browser, but sometimes you want to certain pages with you on your phone, or just reference them later. Chrome to Phone, a free extension/app combo from Google, sends links, copied text, and Google Maps to your phone.
In tandem with the release of Chrome OS, Google rolled out the Chrome Web Store, a place where you can find web-facing games, applications, and other intriguing browser-based tools—as well as just some glorified bookmarks. It's a very young thing, but here's how Google pitched it when it opened the doors.
It took a while, but when Chrome finally offered a release it could call "Stable" on Linux and (especially) Mac, you could almost hear the collective clicks of Chrome fans switching it over as their default browser. Extensions, full-screen modes, working print modes, and other features that were sadly missing for so long all showed up, and, most importantly, far fewer crashes.
The TOR project is one of the most reliable ways to get anonymity for your browsing, and escape filters and restrictions. Turning it on in just one click makes it something you don't have to commit to, but helpful for when you need it.
We try to occasionally do the kind of meticulous, math-nerdy work that our readers might be interested in. But sometime you all just take it on yourselves in beautiful ways. Like when Kyle Dreger did our pixel-friendly test, Mac-style. He found that Chrome continues to be the winner in pixel space—except when it comes to full-screen mode on Macs.
What Chrome posts, or Chrome developments, caught your eye in 2010? What are you hoping for in 2011? Give us your own year-end lists in the comments.