No extensions, no Chrome

It was the usual mix of excitement and fear as I downloaded Google Chrome last night: the former to see what Google would do when it had total control of the browsing experience, the latter in case it rendered any of my designs horribly. To be honest, there wasn’t much to report on either front.
Let’s not get carried away: Chrome is a web browser. I like the minimalist interface (with Vista-esque styling even on XP). The ‘omnibox’ is a great idea, as long as you’re happy with the privacy question. It’s kinda fun – and sometimes a bit frightening – to be able to see how much memory an individual page consumes, particularly if you can recall the days of the ZX81 and its 1K of memory. I’ll take their word on the stability and security features, but (happily) I’ve yet to see any evidence. The automated ‘favourites’ on new tabs is a nice touch, I suppose. But for all this, it’s still just a piece of software which renders HTML, CSS and Javascript into pages.
Chrome’s main selling point seems to be its improved Javascript performance – according to one test, it’s 2.5x faster than Firefox, and a ridiculous 22x faster than IE7. That’s going to matter in the future, allowing Javascript interfaces to become more complex. But I don’t imagine many websites will feel ready to take things to that higher level for quite some time.
Will I be switching? No – for one simple reason, and that’s the surprising lack of plugin capability. The help documentation declares:

Currently, Google Chrome supports the most popular plug-ins necessary to display the Web correctly, including Flash, Acrobat Reader, Java, Windows Media Player, Real Player, QuickTime, and Silverlight.

And that’s it – which is a problem. Firefox is my do-everything window on the world. I get an alert when new email messages are detected by the Gmail plugin I use. My bookmarks are fed into the browser courtesy of the Delicious plugin. Without these and many others, I’m feeling lost in cyberspace.
It’s a curious omission, given that Google’s quite happy for developers to write their own Gadgets for Google Desktop and iGoogle. According to Google blogger Matt Cutts:

I’m sure that extensions/add-ons are something that the Chrome team would like to do down the road, but the Chrome team will be a bit busy for a while, what with the feedback from the launch plus working on Mac and Linux support. I’d suggest that you give Google Chrome a try for a few days to see if enjoy browsing even without extension X. A lot of really cool extension-like behaviors such as resize-able textareas and drag-and-drop file upload are already built into Google Chrome.

So it looks like Chrome won’t be able to give me the online experience I’ve grown to expect, not any time soon. It confirms the theory offered by Shane Richmond yesterday, that Chrome is an attack on Internet Explorer rather than Firefox. It’s for people – the vast majority of people – who don’t know or care about customisation. It will give them a streamlined online experience, with all the plugins they need and no more, within a controlled environment. If you want more, well, you’re probably on Firefox already… and, like me, unlikely to move.
Quick update: it looks like the new Javascript engine planned for Firefox v3.1 (known as TraceMonkey) is even faster than Chrome. But for me, the most interesting comparison in this new data isn’t between Chrome’s engine and Firefox v3.1’s engine… it’s between XP and Vista. Chrome’s V8 is 30% slower on Vista; TraceMonkey is 20% slower on Vista. I’m no expert, but that doesn’t sound good.

7 thoughts on “No extensions, no Chrome”

  1. I had assumed they would add extensions etc later on but if there are no plans to do that, I’ll stick with Safari at home and Firefox at work (where it took a lot of work to get Firefox installed and I doubt I’d ever get Safari onto this machine, unfortunately).

  2. Plugins are also the reason why I won’t be adopting it as my prmary broswer anytime soon. I can’t see Google ever supporting anything like the Adblock Plus plugin for Firefox given that ads are one of their main revenue source. Liked the minimalist interface though, and it does seem pretty nippy – possibly even has the edge over Opera but not had enough time with Chrome yet. Other downside for me is the regularity at which Google Installer phones home to check for updates, and it doesn’t look as if you can tweak the frequency yet…

  3. This should have been a priority.
    Since the project is open-source, hopefully some comes up with goods!
    Anyway, if you want to block ads – you can link Ad-Muncher to Chrome… No more ads!

  4. Totally lacking in the wow factor stakes. I’ll stick to IE7 and FF3. Worth keeping an eye though, given Google’s track record with interfaces.

  5. I’d very happily stick with FF3 but it’s currently misbehaving very badly here at Mindworks Global HQ. It’s refusing add URLs to the bookmarks toolbar (which I use to park possible bookmarks before deciding whether to tag them in my various accounts) and won’t add Delicious buttons to the toolbar. I’ve tried changes suggested in the Firefox forums and FAQs and have reinstalled it a couple of times.
    Chrome may be extension free but I gather it’s open source and it’s certainly fast – when someone builds some decent Delicious add-ons (the only add-ons I really care about) I may well switch.

  6. Solved the Delicious problem via this – dragged the Firefox bookmarklet’s into Chrome’s bookmark toolbar and, hey presto, the links are as good as Delicious buttons in FF. Liking Chrome more and more by the minute – there are lots of hidden goodies and no doubt when the open source Chromium project gets properly under way there will be more. And it’s as fast as a very fast thing that has a special reason to go particularly fast.
    Let’s hope that Chrome is more stable than FF3. The latter, to my non techie mind, is pretty unstable, to say the least.

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