My first browser, Mosaic (the really old one), came on a CDROM from my first ISP back in 1994. It was a pretty basic thing that didn’t really do very much but hey, you were surfing the “world wide web” so who cares. You were a cowboy in the wild, wild west of “cyberspace”, even Maggie Philbin had a job keeping up. It was the mid nineties, before Dot.Com, back when a fax number was the key to successful business communications and way before your mum was on Facebook!

Over the years the browser has gone through some interesting genetic mutations. Mosaic spawned both Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer. IE became IE3, then IE4, 5, 5.5,6,7 and now 8! Netscape likewise morphed, then in ’99 Mozilla arrived and within a couple of years we had Firefox. These, and all the others (Safari, Opera, Camino et al) had one thing in common, they built on the features and success of their peers.

All the while, the websites that ran on the browsers were quietly becoming more and more sophisticated. In ’94 websites looked more like linked text files, even images were quite a rarity. Now we have Flickr, Amazon, Gmail and Facebook to name but a few. Every one of these placed the control elements into the site itself rather than relying on the browser. Browser developers have always made the assumption that we need the browser itself to “do something” for us. Whether that was sophisticated bookmarks, search boxes, tabs, RSS readers or the now (bloated) proprietary toolbars.

The first thing you notice about Chrome is the sheer lack of “stuff” the next thing you will notice is the speed. Google have done a whole load of clever techie stuff in the background to make the most of all that modern computing power we have sitting on our desks (or laps). The upshot is a very clean, fast browser that really delivers and, for the first time in years, feels different. In fact it reminds me of the first time I used Google’s search engine, I remember thinking “where is all the other stuff I need to do a search” – I quickly realised I never really needed it!

Strangely though Chrome does have all those “useful” tools but they are just pretending not to be there. Take the favourites, a simple Ctrl+B will toggle them – nice and clean! The search box in both IE and Firefox is separate to the web address box. Half the people who use IE and FF see these two boxes as interchangeable anyway, so why have both? Chrome combines them – If you know the address you want, type it – if not, just throw in a search term or two and it will give you Google search page or even suggest some URLs – Genius!

I could harp on for ages about all the differences but really the only way to see what I’m talking about is to use it for yourself. For me its like going back to the Mosiac days, putting the site in focus rather than the browser.

Let’s not carried away just yet though, Chrome is one day old and is still a beta product. It has a VERY long way to go to break into a market dominated by IE; even Firefox has taken years to get its current 15% market share. However saying that, if anyone can break Microsoft’s stranglehold on the browser market, Google can.