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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I formerly used a browser plug-in called Xmarks that synchronized all my bookmarks. At some point, Xmarks was withdrawn from the market temporarily. It eventually came back, but I had moved on. Meanwhile, Chrome and Firefox got their own synh functions, and people learned to sync IE bookmarks via SkyDrive (recently renamed OneDrive for legal reasons). I've never gone back to Xmarks. Chrome sync works fine for me across all my computers and all my mobile devices.

In addition to automatic updating and internal copies of Flash and a PDF viewer, all of which improve its security, Chrome has internal detection of infected sites and detection of bad SSL certificates. It also sandboxes browser tabs and extensions. In most browser security tests, Chrome comes out on top, or tied for the top grade.

The most noticeable feature of the Chrome UI is that there is only one box for search and navigation, called the omnibox. You'd think that would be confusing, but Chrome does a good job of offering you the right choices, especially if you have "Use a prediction service to help complete searches and URLs typed in the address bar" checked in your advanced preferences. Type "onion" into the omnibox, and you'll see suggestions ranging from "" to "onion soup."

I appreciate the malleability of Chrome tabs. It's easy to drag them around, move them into separate windows, reopen them from the same computer, and reopen them from another computer.

Thinking outside the browser
With the exception of memory usage, Chrome is the top choice for Web browsing available today on Windows, OS X, and Linux. It offers superior speed, usability, and security. In addition, Chrome provides a framework and Web store for apps that run on Windows, OS X, Linux, and Chromebooks.

The Chrome Apps architecture offers a container and APIs that developers can use to easily build desktop applications using HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript. These apps perform surprisingly well, partly because the Chrome JavaScript engine is very fast -- faster than Python in some tests -- but also because the Chrome APIs are fairly thin layers over native OS APIs.

Now Chrome apps are making the leap to mobile devices. Google recently released a developer preview of a toolchain, called MobileChromeApps, that allows developers to wrap Chrome apps with native shells for Android and iOS, then publish them to the Google and Apple app stores.

As phones and tablets become more powerful and less memory-constrained, and Chrome on mobile gains larger and larger subsets of the functionality of Chrome on the desktop, the possibilities will get even more interesting. Google Chrome has become much more than a browser.

Google Chrome at a glance

  • Fast, standards-compliant Web browser
  • Includes its own copy of Flash and keeps itself updated
  • Many extensions available for Chrome, almost as many as Firefox
  • Support for desktop apps using Chrome Platform APIs
  • Chrome apps can work offline with some level of functionality
  • You can synchronize Chrome among computers and mobile devices, as long as you sign in with your Google account
  • Substantial memory footprint
  • You need a Google account to use the full features
  • Debugging tools are not quite as good as Firebug on Firefox
PlatformsWindows XP SP2 or later; Mac OS X 10.6 or later; Ubuntu 12.04 or later, Debian 7 or later, OpenSuSE 12.2 or later, Fedora Linux 17 or later. Supplied native on Chromebooks.

This story, "Review: Google Chrome wants to be your OS," was originally published at Follow the latest developments in applications and application development at For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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