Review: Google Chrome wants to be your OS

The Chrome Apps architecture enables native-like apps, written in JavaScript with platform APIs, that load fast, run quickly, and work offline

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Unfortunately Chrome is a memory hog. It's actually not as bad a memory hog as its own diagnostics say it is on a Mac -- they suffer from some double counting -- but I routinely see the sum of the RAM used by all the Google Chrome and Google Chrome Helper processes running into multiple gigabytes. Admittedly, I keep a lot of tabs open, including tabs for Gmail, Outlook.com, Facebook, and other memory-heavy applications.

If RAM usage matters a lot to you, you might find that Firefox works better for you than Chrome. I spend most of my browsing time on an iMac with 16GB of RAM, followed closely by a MacBook with 8GB of RAM. With that much RAM, memory usage from the browser becomes an issue for me only when I also have multiple photo and video editing programs, software development environments, or VMs running. And when that's the case, I usually shut down the browser or close all but the essential tabs.

HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript/ECMAScript all have governing standards to which browsers are supposed to adhere. Speaking as a sometime Web page designer, I can tell you that standards conformance is much better today than it was in the days of, say, IE6. But conformance varies from browser to browser, and Web designers still have to watch out for edge cases in desktop browsers, plus a whole lot of issues in mobile browsers.

Niels Leenheer maintains a well-regarded suite of HTML conformance tests at html5test.com. The current results show Chrome 32 with a score of 503 (as of Feb. 13, 2014) out of a possible 555, the highest among desktop browsers, followed in descending order by Firefox 26, IE11, Opera 18, and Safari 7.0.

Always up to date
One of the reasons my site Tubifi.com recommends that people use Chrome when running our online video editor is that Chrome has its own copy of Adobe Flash, and it keeps it up to date automatically. I can't tell you how many error reports I've heard that were resolved by having people either update their Flash installation or switch to Chrome.

While the private version of Flash that Chrome maintains seems like a good thing to me, the internal PDF viewer in Chrome is a mixed blessing. There are times when it really speeds up viewing a PDF, and there are times when it gets in the way of viewing a PDF properly. When the feature first came out, it mostly got in the way, and the interesting information for people to know was how to revert to viewing PDFs in Adobe Reader. (Enter chrome:plugins in the address bar and click Disable underneath the entry for Chrome PDF Viewer. The Adobe Reader plug-in will automatically be enabled, if you have it installed.) Now it's not quite so bad. I personally let Chrome display PDFs itself, but when there's a table of contents I want to see or a form to fill out, I download the file and open it in Adobe Acrobat Pro or Apple Preview.

I mentioned above that Chrome's automatic updating of Flash is one reason to use it. In fact, Chrome usually updates all of itself in the background when you're not using it, and if you go a few days without closing it, Chrome will let you know that there's a new version that will load the next time you start Chrome.

Once in a while, though, Chrome will get itself into a state where it can't reach its update server. The symptom I've seen is that when you go into About Google Chrome, it will attempt to update, then report Error 12. The way to fix this is to close Chrome, download a fresh copy of Chrome using another browser, and install that copy manually.

Autodesk Pixlr Touch Up Chrome App
Chrome apps do not need to look like a browser. Here you see Autodesk Pixlr Touch Up, where I am non-destructively adding a transparent layer to an image. This is the kind of functionality you expect from a native app like Photoshop, not a browser-based app. (Click the image for a close-up view.)
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