Why Isn’t Google Chrome In Widespread Use Yet?

In last Thursday’s article I ended up discussing browser market share and trends. As I wrote that article, I was using Firefox 3; As I write this article, however, I am using Google Chrome. This fact, actually, shocks even me, so I’ll share how it happened.

A quick search of google reveals that many of us on Vista 64 have been plagued with instability and inexplicable crashes from Firefox for a little while now. And, while the browser was generally stable, it could happen at frustrating times — for example, in the middle of writing my last article. Thankfully, WP had a fairly up-to-date draft saved, so I didn’t lose much, but what if I’d been typing an email at the time? Or using some sort of ticket system that didn’t have an autosave feature?

I forget how it happened, but I ended up reading the Google Chrome Comic, which is an interesting read to be suggested to anyone considering chrome, but let me summarize what I got out of it: Chrome runs each and every tab in its own process. You heard right, the tab bar is being run by Chrome’s central “process manager” and it seperates each and every tab out into a unique PID, handle, etc. The first advantage is huge: If you crash, only one tab crashes; all the others are fine and dandy. And, overall, it means that even if every tab crashes, the parent process manager doesn’t lose all your settings. But let’s step back a bit and talk about how we got here.

In the beginning, as far as most people who got a PC between 1996 and now are concerned, was the Internet Explorer. And it was good… ish. Well, when you were first getting a computer, there wasn’t a whole lot to notice about it being bad. If it seemed slow, well, that’s just the speed computers run, no real need to worry. In fact, and I don’t think anyone is disputing me on this one, most of the reason Internet Explorer is still being used in such volume is actually very pragmatic on the part of its home user base: If It’s Not Broken, Don’t Fix It. As far as your average user goes, there’s nothing wrong with IE. Well, there is, but not that they can see.

If I had to pick a number one problem with IE, it’d be security. Since IE has been a part of the “Core OS” since Windows 95, it has access to a lot of components that other browsers, by virtue of not hooking functions that are allowed to run in Kernel Space, do not. And with great power, comes great responsibility — except for the part where it was apparently decided that Microsoft should be able to silently install its own ActiveX controls. Now, I’m not going to bash them for trying to take control of the user’s machine and make decisions for them, and I am not going to say that, for the average user, this doesn’t make a lot of sense, as it allows Microsoft Signed ActiveX controls, which have a tendency to make browsing into a less painful experience for the users, become available with little-to-no interaction on their part; really, it does make sense from that perspective.

If you’ve ever been identified as “The Computer Guy” by your family or friends, you’ve inevitably had to suffer through some questions which just seem downright silly, and make you wonder how they could possibly not know this and still manage to not get their fork stuck in a nostril while eating. One of the common complaints, that usually makes any and all support personnel scoff, is that “I didn’t do anything, I just got a virus.” The odds of that happening are, well, slightly more likely than the presence of snow in the earth’s molten core — you always did something. Except, of course, when they genuinely didn’t. A while back, a vulnerability was identified with the Access Shanpshot Viewer ActiveX Control that allowed someone to execute arbitrary code with the same access level of the currently logged on user. And, what’s more, not only did it automatically, and silently, install on the target’s machine, it would even install if a user had an updated version of the same control. And this is only one issue of its kind.

From a web developer’s perspective, 75% of the hassle of developing a new application is debugging it for IE. When I first started slamming my face into the keyboard and calling what came out on the screen “HTML” I was only viewing it in IE. And, because of this, I developed a lot of bad habits. Quickly, too. That was over 10 years ago now, and I am still embarrased over this hideous markup, thankfully now striken from the web with the demise of sites like Angelfire and Fortunecity. Again, though, from the user’s perspective, this makes the web “more accessible” because little Johnny’s website looks good in IE, but looks like a steaming pile of dung and other unmentionables in FireFox.

Of course, from the Web Developer‘s perspective, Firefox is pretty much the best choice. Standards Compliance to a fault, a plethora of development and debugging tools (Web Developer Toolbar, Console², Firebug and Execute JS are daily saviors of my sanity), and open source? Sign me right up! And, for my day-to-day work, I will continue to use Firefox, for all of these other reasons. Build it to work with all the standards, and then go back and hack it up for the other browsers, not the other way around. At least, that’s one man’s opinion.

Most other browser alternatives are regarded by those outside of their userbase with a silent disdain. I don’t mind if you want to use Safari or Netscape, but in all honesty, if my site doesn’t work in your browser, I probably don’t care. It’s not that you aren’t important, it’s just that your browser doesn’t agree with the other 85+ percent of the browser market; I’ve got to draw the line somewhere, and I draw it right over your browser’s stupid face.

So why support chrome? Well, A lot of us were taken in early by the google name. “Google is making a browser? God yes, get me in on that!” Of course, Chrome hasn’t taken off as much as we really expected it to, clocking in at between 1.80% and 5.50% for may of 2009, depending on who you ask. And I’m proud to add myself to that list, at least from home, because just a moment ago Firefox crashed and lost all of my settings. I might as well have reinstalled, save for my addons. This was after it crashed about 10 times in a row. Great.

Now, supposedly, we will get 64-but support in the release of Firefox 3.6, but I’m not going to hold my breath. There’s still the nature of that multi-threaded-versus-multi-process programming scheme. And the memory bloat, don’t get me started about the memory bloat (“Mommy, why is Firefox taking up over 800 MB of memory?”). No no, for now, I’m pleased, if a little annoyed at having to reconfigure yet another program. Of course, it seems pretty clearly worth it, and if you haven’t tried Chrome yet, let me go ahead and implore you to do so. In addition to being shiny and wonderful, it is also extremely fast, reliable, and just plain shiny. Let me end this by saying:

“Thanks, Chrome. Thome.”

Update! Another fun thing about chrome is that, in addition to crashing responsibly, it uses its error messages to lighten to mood of what’s just happened. Read more about this in one of my favorite blogs, Jeff Atwood’s Coding Horror.

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7 Responses to “Why Isn’t Google Chrome In Widespread Use Yet?”

  1. Truthfuldemise Says:

    Informative Article. Bravo. I used to use chrome for a while but I was using it early enough that there weren’t very many useful add-ons for it so I meandered back over to Firefox. I have been thinking of throwing a virtual machine onto my computer to test some other browsers because I think at some point in time I have had a love affair with all the major browsers (sans IE). Also, have you heard about the new browser Microsoft is working on? A little bird told me that they are working on something that isn’t IE but follows the Chrome blueprints pretty nicely, what with the ‘each tab being it’s own seperate process’. I have to dig the articles up but they may have been on Engadget. That being said, have you had the central process manager crash on you yet? Somehow, back when I was running Chrome, no tab ever crashed on me but boy did that central process manager seem to crash a lot. They may have fixed it more recently, but it used to be if the process manager crashed all the tabs closed. Pretty annoying.

    Also, do you know what the market share of Opera is anymore and if it is still being developed?

  2. Why Isn’t Google Chrome In Widespread Use Yet? Says:

    […] is the original post:  Why Isn’t Google Chrome In Widespread Use Yet? […]

  3. Morose Says:

    I’ve been hearing a lot about this multi-process browser experience in the last few months and what I’ve heard was all good. I know already that were it not for the lack of the delectable add-ons I have with Firefox (such as Xmarks and FEBE which allow me to seamlessly change machines or reformat on what recently has felt like a daily basis) which I cannot convince myself to give up, I would already be using Google Chrome. There are other advantages to using Google Chrome, such as it’s performance in the pwn2own contest (though it’s results are said to be due in no way to security design and instead to inherent sandbagging.)

    All that being said I’m currently writing from Firefox version 3.0.12 on a machine that is running Windows 7 RC 64-Bit and I can safely say that I’ve yet to have a crash whilst using Firefox in 64-Bit.

  4. Truthfuldemise Says:

    I too have been running Firefox on a WIndows 7 RC 64-bit machine and it hasn’t crashed on me either. AND my portable Firefox hasn’t crashed running on any machine I’ve run it on. Guess I’m just lucky?

  5. The Greatest Software Architect the World Has Ever Known Says:

    Chrome is faster. Nuff said. I might pull up several hundred web pages in a single day. Waiting for pages to render (when all the data has been downloaded) sucks.

  6. Daniel Says:

    I think a huge reason why it hasn’t taken off is that you can’t make mods for it like you can for Firefox. That is likely part of why it’s so fast, but it limits the functionality you have to stock(see IE).

  7. RyconPayne Says:

    I use Google chrome when I’m in windows. Firefox has updated itself to slow and unreliable. Extensions are wonderful, and offer a lot of great functionality, but at the expense of everything else that made firefox such a good browser.

    Chrome came along and it was an interesting browser to play with at first. As time went on, I found myself opening it more often just because I wanted something that would just work fast, when I needed it. Now, when in Windows, I almost never use anything else. And I find I don’t miss all of my extensions.