Two Applications to Try

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Yesterday and today, two interesting new computer applications came to my attention. I intend to try both. Today's first....

Google Chrome

Google is going to release a new web browser today. It's called, "Chrome". The post at the link expands upon the following highlights in more detail:

  • Google Chrome is Google's open source browser project.
  • The browser will include a JavaScript Virtual Machine called V8.
  • Google Chrome will use special tabs.
  • The browser has an address bar with auto-completion features. [I hate auto-completion, but this one is an improvement. --ed]
  • As a default homepage Chrome presents you with a kind of "speed dial" feature, similar to the one of Opera.
  • Chrome has a privacy mode; Google says you can create an "incognito" window "and nothing that occurs in that window is ever logged on your computer."
  • Web apps can be launched in their own browser window without address bar and toolbar. [This will be very nice on small laptops like the ASUS. --ed]
  • To fight malware and phishing attempts, Chrome is constantly downloading lists of harmful sites.
The comic book version of the story offers even more detail. Seriously. It is a longish read, though.

I imagine that this first release will be Windows-only, which will preclude my immediate use of it, unless it turns out to run on Crossover Office, which I plan to try. Or, better, unless Google surprises me and offers a Linux version on its first rollout.

Normally, I use Firefox, but my usual work computer is flaky, and I often use a system at home that I hastily cobbled together from older components, meaning that it has far less RAM than I would like. (I'm waiting for my move to Boston before buying a new desktop.) Javascript speed issues are killing me, and Firefox will often crash at very inconvenient times.

Chrome may solve both problems, and I'll happily switch if it does. At a minimum, it will make blogging much more rapid and enjoyable for me, as well as potentially making some potential changes I'm contemplating far more doable.

One word of caution: This is release is admittedly for human testing, such as for web sites that require a human to log in. Your mileage may vary.


The second application I ran into yesterday while stopping by Life Hacker. It's called "todo.txt" and is a collaborative effort to do something I've only taken baby steps towards doing on my own: creating a text file-based list manager. Its simplicity, economy, and freedom from both hardware and software vendor lock-in are all extremely appealing to me. The project web site explains:
Plain text is software and operating system agnostic. It's searchable, portable, lightweight and easily manipulated. It's unstructured. It works when someone else's web server is down or your Outlook .PST file is corrupt. Since it's been around since the dawn of computing, it's safe to say it's completely future-proof. There's no exporting and importing, no databases or tags or flags or stars or prioritizing or [Insert company name here]-induced rules on what you can and can't do with it.

Todo.txt is a flat text file that contains one task per line, each optionally associated with a context, project and priority for slicing, dicing and sorting.
The great thing about open source projects like this is that with so many people out there, it is frequently the case that somebody else has encountered the same problem you're pondering and, more often than not, has made some kind of decent stab at solving it.

Installing this program on a few computers I frequently use and having it process a file on my "pocket office" will make accessing my to-do lists far easier than it has ever been.

-- CAV


Resident Egoist said...

Yo Gus, I read about Google Chrome yesterday, too. (What's with the comic book style? - Very annoying to have to click for new content every few seconds)

They're certainly trying to solve some interesting problems with today's browsers. I doubt it'll be an IE killer, though ... well, at least not anytime soon. The majority of IE's demographic is the kind that does not try to change any default setting or software on their OS. They simply use what's readily available - They don't care (or know about) threads and processes, or javascript, or whatnot.

The application that will be directly (and immediately) challenged here will be Mozilla's Firefox (my favorite so far). Why, I think? Because of the demographic again. Firefox users tend to have a "geeky" streak in them, and always stay on top of the latest and greatest in most software categories.

Case in point: if Google Chrome manages to deliver on its promise and happens to have the basic set of plugins that I currently use with Firefox, I have no doubt that I'll be switching.

I also have a feeling that Chrome will be more and better integrated with Google's web services - and since I heavily use plenty of them already, there's a lot of incentive to jump ship.

Gus Van Horn said...


I think your take is completely on target. MS lives by consumer inertia.

As for the threat to Firefox, the thing is open-source and Firefox could fix its most annoying problems (if Chrome has indeed solved them), but in such a case, if Chrome doesn't kill Firefox outright, it would fragment that segment of the market assuming, as you say, it provides the feature set Firefox users are accustomed to.

The comic book style is, I think, derivative from a PAPER comic book. As such, I'm glad they put it on the web. I found how it loaded very annoying. I'd have scrolled to the bottom of a page, but it would rapidly scroll me back to the top before "flipping" to the next page.


Dismuke said...

Wow. Thanks so much for info about Chrome. It is a HUGE bright spot in an otherwise pretty miserable day home sick from work with a really annoying cold/flu/evil ailment. I using it right now as I type.

The first thing I immediately liked about it is its window efficiency. It is VERY compact with the browser related tool bars, buttons, etc. Thus more of the screen is devoted to web space.

But here is the feature that I LOVE about it and it is something that I have been WISHING for in a major way. Google calls it "Crash Control." And the fact that a malfunctioning website in one particular tab can be taken down through "end process" without crashing all of the other tabs IS a nice feature. But there is another benefit to it: When you close a tab down, the RAM that the website in it takes up is also released.

One of the things that drives me CRAZY about Firefox or Sea Monkey, the Mozilla-based browser I usually use, is the fact that, even after a tab is closed down, the memory it required continues to be taken up by the browser. After using a Firefox/Mozilla/Sea Monkey browser for a while without shutting it down, one can look in the Window's Task Manager at the browsers' memory consumption and see that it just continues to build up. If one goes long enough without closing all instances of the browser, it will eventually result in one's computer running slow.

This has been a huge problem for me when I am trying to get caught up with friends requests for the Radio Dismuke myspace page. My policy is to at least briefly review each request to screen out the obvious spam requests. Problem is so many people overload their profiles with way too many image files. It doesn't take too long for such pages to cause the browsers's RAM usage to go through the roof, even if all the tabs they were viewed in are promptly closed down. This was especially bad with my old computer which did not have a large amount of RAM by today's standards - I usually had to crash and restart the browser multiple times to get though my myspace requests otherwise things would come to a crawl. It is not as bad with my new computer which has more RAM - but even with it, when things start to become slow, I immediately know it has been too long since I completely shut down all instances of Firefox/Mozilla/Sea Monkey.

With Google Chrome, according to the Chrome's own built-in dedicated task manager, when a tab is closed, the memory it takes up is also released. This is great news for someone like me who never turns his computer off and keeps the browser up at all times for immediate access. And it is certainly great news for people who are using older computers with less RAM - and, indeed, it might result in my using my old computer more often as it is located in a part of the house that is sometimes more convenient for me.

Now, I guess the big question is: what is google's long term objective with it? My guess is it is but a means to some much larger end. One clue might be this from Google's product description:

"We also built V8, a more powerful JavaScript engine, to power the next generation of web applications that aren't even possible in today's browsers

Watch out Microsoft. Some of the "next generation of web applications" that google has been playing with lately are things such as online spreadsheet and word processing applications that hope to someday give Excel and Word a run for their money. It just might be that this V8 is the beginning of a new platform that will power all sorts of stuff that Microsoft probably would rather not see come along.

One thing we know for sure - google didn't spend time and money putting it together simply because they thought it would be a cool thing to do.

Dismuke said...

Two more cool things about Chrome I forgot to mention:

So far, I have not had to download any plug-ins. That has always been a real pain whenever I have installed a new type of Mozilla browser. I checked out a few sites that require Flash and Real Audio everything worked just fine from the get go.

And you can rearrange the order of the tabs. You can take a tab and turn it into a separate window - and then you can put it back in place as a tab. This will be VERY useful when I am doing online research and need to refer back from one page to another - I will be able to group the tabs in a more convenient order for easy reference.

Cogito said...

I just installed Chrome, and I'm posting this comment on it. So far, I've been running smoothly without any issues, which is nice, and the default home page/new tab page is quite useful. Hopefully I'll have a review of it on my blog in a few days.

Valda Redfern said...

Thanks for the heads up - I'll have to wait for the Mac version, since my recently acquired iBook is what I use for most of my surfing. Like resident egoist, my favourite now is Firefox. And it's true, I do have a geeky streak - I can't resist trying out new software.

Gus Van Horn said...

Wow! Based on the small flurry of comments between email checks, Chrome is touching a nerve among the Firefox demographic!


Your descriptions jibe with the material I read this morning that made me want to try it, especially the crash control and better RAM management. Your rave review indicates to me that it will probably live up to the hype.


I look forward to your review.

Also, you did a good job on that roundup the other day!


I may have to wait, too. Google autodetects the OS, so the option to download the Windows version never showed up. So I tried a Windows computer at work. No actual download -- it was going to simply try installing it. I stopped it. For one thing, I don't have Administrator privileges (which is as it should be) and for another, even if I don't need them to install Chrome, I don't want to have to explain why something suddenly doesn't work, which happens about half the time you install new software in Windows. (And third, my goal was to get the file anyway.)


Dismuke said...

I was playing around with the "incognito window" and found another very useful feature.

The official purpose of the incognito window is privacy. None of the history, files or cache used in the window is stored in the browser or on the computer. Google's tactful example of how it might be used is searching and buying a birthday gift for the person one shares the computer with. But we all know that a more typical example is when Leftists want to search the 'net for things such as "Cindy Sheehan+naked+pics"

But the incognito window is actually quite useful for other things in that it functions independently of any cookies one might have in the regular browser windows. Therefore, if one maintains two separate accounts with the same website, one can actually log into both at the same time by simply using the incognito window to access the second account.

All of my email is forwarded to one of two Yahoo Mail accounts - one that I check frequently and the other I check only occasionally. Now I no longer have to log out of one account to check the other or pull up a different brand of browser in order to access both at the same time.

Gus Van Horn said...

That's a good idea -- the dual login, not the Cindy Sheehan pictures for any lefties who might happen by -- that I hadn't thought of.

Also, the comic book makes it seem like they've solved lots of security problems, too....

Can't wait for the Linux rollout so I can try this.

Resident Egoist said...


OK. Excuse the sensationalism, but this browser is observably very fast. Only one thing is holding me back right now: the web is a very strange place without my Firefox extensions.

When google manages to accumulate as big a collection of browser extensions as Mozilla, Firefox (as it is today) is going to be effectively obsolete.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks for the sneak preview, R-E.

I managed to obtain the executable for the installer, but it exited while I tried to install via Crossover Office.

So I won't get to play with this until I'm in Bean Town, where my wife and our dual-boot laptop live, a couple of weeks from now.

It definitely sounds like Google has figured out what is wrong with browsers and fixed it, though.

Damn! For the first time in ages, I ALMOST wish I used Windows.

Phil said...

Lots of people have mentioned not wanting to lose their Firefox addins, which makes me think that most of the people considering chrome are Firefox users - no surprise there really

Gus Van Horn said...

I've seen people saying the same thing elsewhere, too. This won't be an IE killer, no matter how much better than other browsers it might be. Inertia and ignorance (including even of what a browser IS) will see to that.