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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

Why Google Chrome for Mac is important to get right

August 5, 2009

I’ve been playing with recent developer preview releases of Google Chrome for Mac and I got to thinking about how important it is for Google to get the Mac version of Chrome right. Not for Google, really. For us, the users.

As it stands Safari is far and away the best browser available on the Macintosh. Firefox, which is a really solid browser and is much loved by many developers, just isn’t “Mac enough” for us real, devout Mac users. There are so many things missing when an application is not built as a native Macintosh application. Simple things, really. Being able to look up things from the built-in Mac OS X dictionary is one thing. Native spell check. Speed! These are simple things, since Firefox handles some of these things on its own, but once you’ve grown accustomed how real, native Mac applications feel – you want that from all applications on your Mac. Opera and Camino, both very respectable browsers, just are not as lean and mean as Safari is. The are other browsers, to be sure, but none that are backed by corporations with enough resources, or an active enough development community, to really push for the top-spot on the Mac.

Which is why it’d be great for a really, really good browser to emerge on the Macintosh to rival Safari. Both Safari and the Webkit teams are on a tear lately. They have made tremendous strides towards making Safari better and Webkit (along with Squirelfish which is now called Nitro) much, much faster. They’ve improved Webkit’s page rendering (or, how it displays the page based on open standards) to such a degree that it is the envy of all other engines. But, they could do better.

For example, Chrome renders pages faster than Safari. I don’t need a fancy graph or test to show me this – I’ve loaded pages on my Macbook Pro using Chrome and the speed at which the page becomes usable is hands-down much, much faster in Chrome than in Safari (and Safari is fast).

For example, Firefox has add-ons which enhance the features of the core browser. There are add-ons for everything like plugging into your favorite Web sites, aggregating content, security and privacy enhancements, music, calendaring, etc. etc. etc. All optional, based on your needs/wants. Chrome will also support extensions, which are similar to add-ons, that will use open standards (this excites me very, very much).

Competition. That is what it comes down to. Not just competition based on marketing or market share or even mindshare – but an all-out race to be the best. The unequivocal best even if you’re not the biggest. If Google Chrome for Mac is released and is only marginally better than the developer preview releases I’ve been using – the people that are responsible for making Safari will need to trot a little quicker to keep up with where Google is going.

Hooray for us.

Side note: Why I can’t use Google Chrome full time, yet

I’d be tempted to use the developer preview releases of Google Chrome for Mac full time but there are a few key things that are ultimately missing from the application that are vital to my daily browsing needs. Here they are, in case you’re wondering:

  • Adobe Flash support is simply not yet available. I’m not sure what makes Google Chrome for Mac any different than any other browser but I’m hoping this is addressed soon.
  • Google Gears support. Both Google Reader and WordPress, two applications that I use quite often, support Gears and make the experience of using them much nicer. Kind of ironic that Google Chrome for Mac still doesn’t have Google Gears support.
  • Import from Safari. I could probably hack my way into bringing all of my bookmarks and preferences from Safari into Google Chrome – but I hope that an upcoming release has this built-in.

That’s really about it. If I had these things I could probably make the jump to do some real testing of Google Chrome for Mac. For now, I’ll stick with the best browser available for the Mac, Safari.