Microsoft recently released the Beta 2 version of Internet Explorer 8. In case you had missed it, Google launched a browser beta called Chrome this week. I’m going to take you through my first general impressions of each. For purposes of brevity, I won’t include any other browsers in this, even though Firefox just released its version three browser and Opera continuously release new builds.
Google first then. Chrome, as they have unimaginatively called it, is an open beta test, but the product seems to be fairly stable, and so it is worth taking a look at. I say unimaginatively because the chrome of a program is the decoration around the window. For example, the menus, title bar, window frames etc are all referred to as the chrome. We had a product called Chrome Mail back in the old days of AOL 7 (I think, or maybe 8?), and that was even then a terrible name for a product. Five years on, it is still a terrible name. Chrome continues Google’s tradition of releasing functional but minimalistic products that generally do exactly what they say on the tin. It is very fast, and appears to load exceptionally quickly. It is bloated, even though it doesn’t appear to be, but this is a beta so that might be allowed.
Microsoft has just publicly released the second beta of Internet Explorer 8. It is a vast improvement on the first beta, being able to render sites with more accuracy than before. However, the one significant problem with IE8 is that many sites target Internet Explorer specifically to exploit flaws in previous versions. The reason for this is that previous versions of IE (five and six for sure, seven to an extent) haven’t been particularly good at rendering HTML and CSS, and have forced web developers to build conditional work-around fixes into their code. Lots of this code unfortunately filters out to IE8 too, which of course causes sites to render incorrectly. This version is also very fast, and we’ll get to the speed thing in more detail in a minute. There’s a lot of new features in this version that haven’t been seen before. IE8 introduces a new feature called Web Slices, which basically puts a segment of an active web page on a button. Its a neat feature, but browser specific so I don’t imagine the uptake will be all that big.
Both browsers have a new privacy mode, which erases the session data and doesn’t store cookies. I’m dubious about these modes to be honest. They’ve been dubbed “porn mode”, and to be honest that’s what they seem to be. Microsoft says you’d use this mode to check email at an Internet cafe, or shop for a gift for your loved ones.
Now, there’s really nothing scientific to this test except me with a stopwatch. With caches cleared and history erased, I opened each browser and timed how long it took to load this page. There’s a flash movie on the page at the moment, and a couple of images. Google Chrome clearly won, having taken 2.6 seconds to load, while IE8 took 4.4 seconds. Both browsers are memory hogs though. For a two tabbed session of this page and Google Reader, Chrome took up 53,048KB and IE8 used 55,220KB. Now, I have to say here that one thing has always pissed me off about the various speed comparisons you see between browsers : This is the Internet. The comparisons aren’t completely fair unless you can completely control the bits in between the two machines, which typically means either controlling the Internet, or testing over an unused LAN. I did that, and with cleared caches, the results were instantaneous.
Overall, the new browsers are pretty cool, very fast and very much beta products. I do look forward to the final versions though.