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.