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First Look: Chrome for Mac

Rob Griffiths | Dec. 9, 2009
First, before you consider switching, realize that Chrome is very much a beta release on the Mac.

When Chrome detects a tab has crashed, you'll get a nice pop-up window, as seen at right, to let you close the troublesome page.

The downside of treating each site as a separate process is that you can chew through memory in a hurry. As a simple test, I opened the same five sites in Chrome and Firefox 3.5, and compared the total real memory usage in Activity Monitor. Firefox used 172MB of RAM to open the five sites; Chrome required more than 275MB. If you work with a lot of open tabs and windows, you'll want to keep an eye on your memory usage; all the speed of Chrome isn't worth anything if you use up your RAM and start using virtual memory.

The extra memory usage, though, is worth it the first time you don't have to reopen 15 tabs after some Flash game... er, important research site crashes your entire browser.

Other features

Chrome includes incognito mode, which prevents the browser from recording your browsing habits. One nice feature in Chrome is that you can enable incognito mode on a given window, instead of having it be an on-or-off setting, as it is with Safari's Private Browsing mode.

If you're not enamored with the default Chrome look, you can install themes that change the look of the header, buttons, and various other interface elements.

There are themes by third-party artists, as well as by Google. Personally, I'm a fan of the simple look, but if you want fancy colored backgrounds in your header, you can have them (and importantly, they're very easy to uninstall, too).

Finally, if you look at source code from web pages, Chrome does a reasonably good job of cleaning it up--you not only get line numbers, but the HTML is syntax highlighted (comments in green, URLs are clickable hyperlinks, HTML code is purple, etc.).

Closing thoughts

While Chrome for Mac is currently missing too many features to really be your only browser, it's speedy and stable (I didn't experience a single crash while testing it, other than the one I forced to test the tabs-as-processes feature), and offers a good peek at what the future of the product holds. I found the interface intuitive, and really like how tabs run as distinct processes; too many times I've lost a lot of work due to a browser bailing with a number of open tabs and windows.

Assuming Google can deliver the presently-missing features while maintaining the speed and stability of the current beta, Chrome for Mac looks to be a serious alternative to the currently-dominant Safari and Firefox OS X browsers.

[Senior editor Rob Griffiths writes extensively on browsers for Macworld.com.]

 

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