By now the whole world and his dog will have had a chance to play with Chrome, Google's new browser.
I've been using it all day and after seeing it on about 50 different sites and playing with its various features. I can partly see why Google has got so excited but at the same time perplexed as to why the company thinks that it's something so radically different. It's fast - greased lightning fast, something that will the 'porcine' IE8 will have to contend with. The ability to remember usernames/passwords is a great feature for someone as sieve-brained as me - it doesn't always work but it remembers aout 80 percent of mine. The lack of ad blocker might be a downside for some but, as my colleague Peter Judge points out, Google is hardly likely to introduce an ad-blocker. I've not had grounds to check on the security features in the browser - time will tell on that one.
The sad fact is that, as Gertrude Stein might have said, a browser is a browser is a browser: it's a means to an end and no matter how slick, how intutive and how packed with features it is, it's ultimately a way at getting on to the web and no-one's going to pay too much attention as to how they got there. In that respect a browser is a bit like a football ref: when he's having a good game, no-one knows he's there; it's only when things go wrong that we notice him.
One aspect of Google's browser that has not gone unnoticed is the amount of knowledge that Google will now hold over its users. It will control ads, thanks to its purchase of DoubleClick, it will control videosharing thanks to its purchase of YouTube, it has a hold over discussion boards though Google Groups, thanks to its purchase of Usenet/Deja News in 2001, it has a massive sway in the blogosphere thanks to its purchase of Blogger and of course it already held control of search: now it aims to grab control of the browser too. It also has presence in the cloud with Gmail and with Google Apps. In fact, just about the only things that the company lacks are a payment system and an operating system - but if Google has its way, the operating system will be be defunct anyway.
It's the dominance that might be Google's biggest worry. I wonder how many users will think that this is one step too far and no matter how great Chrome is - and it's a long way from being great right now - there'll be a reluctance to put so much faith in one company. It seems strange after the move away from proprietary systems in the 80s and the anti-trust action on Microsoft in the 90s that a company like Google can emerge, hold massive control over our PCs and we reach out and ask for more.
As for me, I've had a day with Chrome but tomorrow I'll be back to Firefox. It's been an exciting trip but I crave a less dangerous life.