Thoughts on Google Chrome (stable) for Linux

As many of you are already aware, Google Chrome stable was released for the Linux platform on May 25th.

Google Chrome has been one of the fastest growing browsers, and a stable release for Linux has been a long time coming. I’ve played around with beta releases and found them so unstable as to be unusable as recently as just a few months ago, so needless to say, I was pretty interested in seeing what a release for Linux marked “stable” was like.

I’ve been using it as my primary browser since May 25th, so I decided I’d do a brief writeup of what I think of the experience so far.

Platform

I’ve been using the latest stable release of Chrome for Linux on three different machines, running three different operating systems.

One, my work computer, is a slow, underpowered dinosaur running a single old Pentium IV processor, 2GB of RAM, and a video card that’s nothing special at all. This machine is running Linux Mint 7.

Another machine is my System76 Darter Ultra laptop I bought back in April. It’s the exact opposite of my work PC, sporting a Core 2 Duo P9700 processor rated at 2.80 GHz, and 6GB of RAM. I have recently installed Linux Mint 9 64-bit edition on it.

The third machine on which I am running Chrome is my other laptop, a five-year-old Toshiba Satellite A75 s2112 with a Pentium IV processor and 1.25GB of RAM. This old laptop is running Peppermint OS.

Because I wanted to give Chrome a good test run, I decided I was going to run it as my primary browser on all of the computers I use regularly, for a period of two weeks, or until I couldn’t stand it anymore. Whichever came first.

The Bad

As always, I like to present the negatives in my reviews first, and finish on a positive note, so I’m going to talk first about the things that I don’t like about Google Chrome Stable for Linux. Don’t worry, while I’m going to get pretty critical here, I do have positive things to say about it, so make sure you keep reading after I rip things apart a bit here.

The interface! It burns!

By far, above all else, my biggest complaint about Google Chrome is the interface, and the lack of flexibility thereof.

There is no way to customize what buttons appear on the toolbar, and no way to change their positions or their appearance (text, no text, size, et cetera). If you prefer to have an “open new tab” button up on the toolbar, you’re out of luck. There’s no way to do it. If you would like to change the order of the buttons, or move them to the bottom, or the side, or to the other side of the location bar, forget it.

There’s no “home” button either, over which I CONSTANTLY am tripped up, and no way to add one.

With Google Chrome, what you see is what you get.

Worse yet, that “what you get” is annoying on a number of levels. For some reason lost on me, there are no menus at the top to speak of either. The only menus are in the upper right, which, when moused over shows a tooltip calling it “Control the current page”. The other menu, right next to it, is “Customize and control Google Chrome”.

The first has things on it like cut, copy, paste, find, print, et al. The second is kind of their answer to everything, having items such as new tab, new window, history, bookmark manager, downloads, extensions, options, and about.

While I found I could do most things I wanted to do using those two limited menus, it’s counterintuitive and I still find myself fumbling to figure out how to do some things, even after two weeks of continual use.

And the tabs… oh the tabs. WHAT is this fascination with putting the tab bar up at the top of browsers now?

It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. It’s the wrong place to put it, plain and simple. Not opinion here, but fact. I click on tabs FAR more often than I click on the location bar… so why put that farther away from where I normally have my cursor?

Like the lack of sane menus I mentioned above, even though I’ve been using Chrome for two weeks, I still fumble over the tab bar being in the incorrect location. Worse yet, it cannot be moved to the correct location.

That’s a cardinal sin in my opinion. If you’re going to arrange controls in your application in an incorrect way, at least make it possible for the end user to move things to where they should be. It’s annoying enough to have things in the wrong place by default, but it’s incredibly frustrating to make your app so inflexible that you force users to have to use it that way on top of it.

On another note regarding tabs, the Google Chrome developers have new tabs opening next to the currently selected tab by default as well… and no way to change this. FAIL.

I often have 10-20 tabs open at a time. Having to manually drag each tab to the far end of the tab bar as I open it is a serious pain. To this, I say either fix this behavior, or add an option so that the users can fix it themselves. Continued use of Chrome like this drove me so incredibly nuts that I had to go on an extension hunt to correct it. I shouldn’t have to do that to get tabs to behave sanely.

Suffice to say, I find the interface for Google Chrome to be a continual annoyance at best, and with very little I can do to make it less annoying, it is the biggest factor making me want to ditch it as my primary browser. I’ve been highly critical of Firefox in the past for inflexibility in the interface, and I find Firefox to be FAR less annoying compared to Chrome with respect to that factor. If that doesn’t say something, I don’t know what does.

Lack of native functionality

While I understand the desire of the Google team to keep Chrome lightweight, it’s 2010. A modern browser is incomplete without a few basic features, such as ad/content blocking and the ability to undo a closed tab.

Granted, there are extensions to do these things, as well as an extension for mouse gestures, something for which I gained an appreciation after years of being an Opera user.

But ad/content blocking and undoing closed tabs are so basic in this day and age that I find it puzzling when I encounter a browser that can’t do either of those things out of the box. Even Firefox can undo a closed tab without an add-on (though it doesn’t have any kind of native content blocking capability at the time of this writing).

Persistent suggestions from the search/location bar

I hate it when my browser pops a big bunch of suggestions in front of me when I’m just trying to type a URL in the address bar. In Firefox, I can shut this off without any trouble at all. However, in Google Chrome, even though (as you can see in my screenshot to the right) I have the “Use a suggestion service to help complete searches and URLs typed in the address bar” option unchecked, it still suggests crap every single time I type anything in the address bar. This drives me nuts, and the only option I can find that seems to have anything to do with that apparently does nothing. It’s evidently only cosmetic. Argh!

A deal breaker? In and of itself, no, but it’s yet-another-Google-Chrome-annoyance and believe me, they all add up after using it for a couple of weeks.

Right clicking

There’s a bug (or at least I’m assuming it’s a bug) with regard to right clicking on pages and links and objects. Nothing happens the first time you do it. I find myself having to right click at least two or three times if I want the right click menu to show up. While this is a minor thing, it’s something that adds to the annoyances after a while, because I right click on stuff a lot… to “save link as”, and “copy link address”. Things like that. When you have to right click more than once to get that menu it’s irritating.

The Good

You knew I was going to get to this, because I warned you above. I do have good things to say about Google Chrome, and here they are.

Performance!

The biggest thing Google Chrome has going for it in my three machine test of it for the past two weeks is performance. On my underpowered, underperforming work PC and my old laptop, Google Chrome uses less memory than Firefox on average, and it’s a lot more responsive.

It starts up faster, it opens new tabs faster, it navigates faster, and it renders webpages faster, particularly code-heavy sites like Facebook, and of course all of Google‘s stuff loads faster in Chrome, particularly Google Maps.

Firefox has reportedly been losing a bit of market share to Google Chrome in recent months, and it’s pretty clear that if performance is the deciding factor for users, the Mozilla developers have a big hurdle in front of them if they want to keep this from happening even more. Chrome blows the doors off of every browser I use when it comes to sheer speed and efficiency.

Extensibility

Like Firefox, Google Chrome has the ability to utilize add-ons/extensions to extend or add to its native functionality (or lack thereof, as I was griping about above). Indeed, there are now thousands of such extensions for Chrome, only a click or two away and easy to install. Granted, I would of course prefer a few of these functions be built into the browser itself and therefore available natively, but if a browser has to lack functionality, at least it should be able to have this functionality added via extensions, and Chrome can do this quite easily and painlessly.

In fact, unlike Firefox, Chrome can install extensions and have them instantly running for you without having to restart the browser. This isn’t really a big deal, I know, but Firefox has backwardly lacked this basic ability since day one, and even now still can’t manage to do this simple thing.

Likewise, there are lots of themes available for Chrome, and these also do not require a browser restart to apply.

Mozilla developers, take note. You need to catch up a bit here as well.

Stability

Even under the best of circumstances I find myself restarting other browsers regularly to deal with memory issues, flaky behavior, or just all out crashes.

In the two weeks I’ve used Google Chrome (stable) for Linux, however, despite my putting it through the ringer, I have yet to have crashed it or even behave strangely at all. Good job, Google… considering how unusably flaky the beta versions were of Chrome for Linux, the “stable” release has definitely earned the right to be called “stable”!

There doesn’t appear to be any memory leaks, and even after a fairly intense, dozens-of-tabs-open-at-once browsing session, it still chugs along just as responsively and reliably as when I first start it up. Kudos for that!

The good functionality

Multimedia works well. I haven’t had any problems at all playing online content, whether it’s streaming MPEG video or Youtube content or music.

The other thing I like is that Google took a page from Opera’s playbook in including a speed dial on blank tabs, admittedly a rather limited one compared to what Opera has done with it over the past year or two.

Still, it’s a nice feature, and I have gotten a fair amount of use out of it.

Final thoughts

So there it is. It was late in coming, but the Linux release of Google Chrome is a fairly well thought out, stable, and fast browser with a lot of promise.

If Google can get over its insistence of “everyone must use it the way it is” with respect to the rather frustrating and annoying interface, and add some flexibility to it, the folks at Mozilla would have some serious doubts about the future of Firefox, because Google would be stealing a lot more market share away from them in the browser world.

However, despite what Chrome has going for it, it is still ultimately an annoying experience. I can’t get past the big mass of paper cuts to which I am subjected every time I use Chrome… they all add up to a negative for me, so despite the performance and stability of Chrome when compared to others, I will be going back to Firefox now that I am done with my assessment of it.

I may leave Chrome as the default browser on my old laptop, however, because the resource limitations on that machine slightly outweigh the annoyance factor, but that’s the exception. Where performance isn’t as big an issue, I will be ditching Chrome until the issues I brought up are addressed in some future release (if ever).

Update — 07/13/2010

I found, after a ton of digging around, this discussion on Google’s support site where some user actually had a suggestion that worked for shutting off address bar autocomplete in Google Chrome.

I tested this out and it works in Chromium as well.

1. Uncheck that option I mentioned above, under the wrench menu=>Options=>Under the Hood=>”Use a suggestion service to help complete searches and URLs typed in the address bar”

2. Add the following to your launcher for Chrome or Chromium: -omnibox-popup-count=1

3. Restart the browser

After that, any time I type in the address bar, it doesn’t suggest anything. No search suggestions, nothing from bookmarks or browsing history, nothing at all!

Problem solved! But kind of a stupid workaround if you ask me. The correct behavior for the browser would be to actually disable this functionality when that checkbox is unchecked. As it is, that checkbox is apparently only for decoration.

Well, maybe they’ll fix this eventually. Though I’m not holding my breath.

– Trent

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21 thoughts on “Thoughts on Google Chrome (stable) for Linux

  1. I can agree to disagree on some of the points that you disliked. There was one thing I wanted to mention however and that is the reopening of a closed tab. When you open a new tab utilizing that speed-dial you talked about, across the bottom are the last few closed tabs if you want to reopen them.

    Otherwise nice review. Thanks!

      • I agree is it kind of a ‘hidden’ feature in where it is implemented, I just thought I would bring it to your attention that the functionality was in fact there.

  2. I dont necessarily disagree though I personally am a fan of the “Have an extension do extended functionality” with the proviso that google maintains extensions for the basics

    I have not used the linux client but I will mention that the windows version that I have does have the ability to reopen closed tabs in two ways

    1) When opening a new tab the default new tab screen has a “recently closed tabs” section

    2) Right clicking or CTRL+SHIFT+T will reopen closed tabs in the reverse order you closed them in

    Maybe this is missing from the linux version but figured I would mention it

  3. There is absolutely a way to add a home button now, look under basics in preferences. I agree about the lack of customizability in general though, although personally I’m ok with that. The rendering speed makes up for it. On this slow old laptop however, I’ve found that adding extensions, even simple ones, really drags it down.


    • There is absolutely a way to add a home button now, look under basics in preferences.

      I stand corrected yet again! I don’t know how I missed that. I’ve been through the rather limited Options features probably a dozen times looking for things, and I never noticed that little checkbox until you just pointed it out. Durrrr….


      On this slow old laptop however, I’ve found that adding extensions, even simple ones, really drags it down.

      I found that too, on my work PC in particular. If I had anything other than the default theme turned on, and anything other than Adblock installed for extensions, it used even more resources than Firefox did on the same machine.

  4. Two things:

    1 If you hate the wysiwyg attitude of Chrome then I am surprised to see that you use gnome on all your desktop ( presumably ). KDE is the ideal desktop for you ( as it is for me ) ;)

    2 If you have used browsers on smartphones then chrome’s interface makes perfect sense. I find mozilla’s fennec painful. It takes up almost 50% of the screen space!


  5. 1 If you hate the wysiwyg attitude of Chrome then I am surprised to see that you use gnome on all your desktop ( presumably ). KDE is the ideal desktop for you ( as it is for me )

    I hate GNOME, for the same reasons. Lack of functionality, lack of flexibility, lack of configuration options.

    And yes, as far as desktop environments go, I greatly prefer KDE. However, that’s limited to KDE 3.5.*; KDE 4 has been a gigantic disappointment so far.


    2 If you have used browsers on smartphones then chrome’s interface makes perfect sense. I find mozilla’s fennec painful. It takes up almost 50% of the screen space!

    On my phone (a Samsung Instinct) I use Opera Mini and it works great… on my phone. I would never use a browser as interface-limited as Opera Mini on a regular computer (even if it were an option). Chrome’s interface might be a good one on a phone or a mobile device, but as a regular browser for general computer use, the interface is far too limited, inflexible, and downright annoying at this stage.

    I’ve never even seen Mozilla’s “Fennec” browser, so I can’t speak to any pros or cons of that.

    • I am with you on KDE. However, KDE4 was (probably) a disappointment until 4.1 only. Not sure if you have tried 4.3 or later.

      I must try Opera Mini too.

      • I’ve tried KDE 4.0, 4.1, 4.2 and 4.3. At that point I gave up on it and vowed not to try it again until they release KDE 4.5. It’s just too frustrating to bother with until it undergoes a LOT more development.

        • I do agree in part and I continue to use it exactly for the same reason — to provide feedback (and bugs) to the devs ;-)

          On a serious note, i have used KDE4 since its .0 avatar on my work machine and surprisingly had better luck than most out there. I haven’t used 3.5 since then! My work environment, btw, is pretty demanding (being a chiefly MS environment). I use some virtualisation, some wine but mostly native replacements for email, IM etc.

          So, KDE4 is doing alright and hopefully you should find 4.5 usable.

  6. The right clicking thing was just a bug, i think. On the current version, 5.0.375.99, the right clicking works perfectly now. And with this version, on ubuntu 10.04 with gnome, lets say i have 5 tabs open, and im on the first one, and i hit CTRL + T, it opens a new tab at the end. And if i hit the new tab button, it puts it on the end also. So it must have been a early bug, buts its fixed now

    • That’s the exact version I’m running, and I still need to double-right-click to get the menu to come up.

      And if I disable my “New Tabs Always Last” extension, it goes back to opening all new tabs next to the current tab.

      Unless there’s an option to change that without the extension that I just can’t find.

  7. i forgot to mention, there is one thing i hate about chrome, and they havent added yet is on the scrollbar, there is no buttons to go up and down. ou have to drag the bar, or the scroll button on mouse, or touchpad.

  8. Pingback: The 5 Browsers That Annoy Me The Least « The Linux Critic
  9. Your view is … your view. I absolutely respect your opinion, but most of your criticism is based on very subjective issues.

    For example, the tabs position. In fact, the “correct” position of Tabs is ABOVE the adress bar, because an adress bar belongs to a tab, for every tab has its own URL, so it definitely makes no sense to take it outside its scope. Just because you’re used to have it on top on the rest of the browsers, this doesn’t mean it’s the correct location. Of course it wouldn’t hurt to have an option to move it down, but mind what’s annoying and incorrect for you, is an architectural bugfix for others.

    Your arguments about the distance / frequency of use are not very consistent, It would be like if the scrollbar is placed elsewhere different to the window margins. Everybody uses the scrollbar a lot, and just because of that, it wouldnt make sense to put it in the middle of the window, closer to the mouse pointer.

    About the Ad/Blocker, what’s the problem in having it as an addon? I don’t use them, I don’t need them, I don’t want them eating my resources. If someone loves them, he/she can download several of them in any flavour or colour from the extensions store, and install it in seconds.

    About the interface, you hate it, I love it. So uncluttered, so minimal. Menu Bar? Come on, this is a browser, not Microsoft Word.

    Closed tabs, have you found the “recently closed tabs” menu item yet?

    • Just because you’re used to have it on top on the rest of the browsers, this doesn’t mean it’s the correct location

      It isn’t a matter of “getting used” to it. I’ve spent months on-end using Chrome, and I still found the tab positioning awkward, cumbersome, and counter-intuitive. If I can’t “get used to it” after months of continuous use, then it isn’t simply a “preference”, it’s just the wrong position for the tab bar. And this isn’t “subjective”. I know I am not the only one who feels this way. In fact, most polls I’ve seen on the subject show participants pretty much evenly split on the subject. If nothing else, that certainly warrants it being a setting in the preferences, so on that you and I agree.

      With regard to distance / frequency of use, I’m absolutely consistent. I hardly ever touch the scrollbar. Besides, putting it in the middle of the window would be absurd. But putting the tabs — which I DO click on a lot — closer to the viewing area makes perfect sense. I click on the tab bar probably twice (or more) as often as the URL bar. So why have it farther from where my mouse cursor tends to be while interacting with web content? It doesn’t make any sense.

      About the Ad/Blocker, what’s the problem in having it as an addon?

      Maybe in 1999 that would have been a valid point. But in 2011 that’s like saying “about the heater in your car, what’s the problem with having it as an addon?”. The web is filled, FILLED with content that users need to be able to manage/block. Now more than ever before. To have the primary piece of software one uses to view the web to be natively incapable of being able to manage that is as ridiculous as buying a car and discovering that there’s no internal environmental controls.

      For what it’s worth, I have the same complaint about Firefox.

      Menu Bar? Come on, this is a browser, not Microsoft Word.

      It’s a matter of efficiency and intuitiveness. I struggle to find basic things in Chrome’s lone, confusing, obscure menu. And I find that it takes more clicks and flailing around to do basic things without the correct menu options available. In Firefox, I want to see my browser history, I click the “History” menu, and there it is. In Chrome, I have to click the wrench icon (which, when I first started using Chrome, I didn’t even realize was a menu), and then “History”, which then opens up a new tab instead of just showing me a dropdown of history items. Extra, unnecessary steps. Likewise with “Bookmarks”. Too many clicks. And “View source”. Too many clicks.

      And, for what it’s worth, it’s the same complaint I have about Opera’s default menuless interface, and Firefox’s (lately). Both are essentially copying Microsoft’s user interface mistakes. What you are calling “uncluttered” and “so minimal”, I call a painful, overly-complex user experience. It’s like trying to play the piano while wearing mittens.

      Closed tabs, have you found the “recently closed tabs” menu item yet?

      No, I’ve never seen anything like that in Chrome. Maybe if it had a more intuitive interface, users wouldn’t go for months without realizing that there is basic functionality there that’s just poorly implemented or buried in some cluttered, disorganized submenu.

  10. I’ve read your post briefly and the only thing that I can tell about it is that I didn’t think somebody would want to do all those changes to Chrome/Chromium behaviour. I’m not dismissing your preferences, but I honestly love the way it works.

    I’m using much newer version of Chromium from the daily PPA for Ubuntu. You probably would have even more objections to it than with stable Chrome.

    That reopen recently closed tab isn’t buried at all just right click on a tab and you will see (that it is at your fingertips, closer than ever before). The menuless interface could be resolved with globalmenu just like in Unity (but you probably don’t like that either). I’ve just checked and it doesn’t work with Opera (the globalmenu), but works with Firefox and Chrome/Chromium.

    I don’t know whats with the adblocker thing, but ads aren’t bothering me and Chromium has a builtin blocker of the plugins. You can disable with it flash, java and silverlight content on all websites and also add some to the whitelist. Disabled content can be then enabled by right clicking and selecting load plugin option.

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