A bug in Google Chrome

Between hurricanes and hericanes, you could easily have missed the technology news. Released yesterday in public beta, Google Chrome is a standards-compliant web browser created to erode Microsoft’s browser dominance (i.e. to boost Google’s web dominance) while also rethinking what a browser is and does in the age of web apps and Google’s YouTube.

The new browser is based on Webkit, the advanced-standards-compliant, open source browser engine that powers Apple’s Safari for Mac and PC, but Chrome currently runs only in Windows. You figure that out.

Here are the new browser’s terms of service.

And here’s an important early bug report from Jeremy Jarratt: Google Chrome wrongly displays alternate styles as if active, thus “breaking” websites that use them. (Here’s more about alternate style sheets, from Paul Sowden’s groundbreaking 2001 A List Apart article.)

To compete with Microsoft, the new browser must offer what other browsers do not. The risk inherent in that proposition is a return to proprietary browser code. It is not yet clear to me whether Chrome will compete the wrong way—offering Chrome-only features based on Chrome-only code, thus prompting Microsoft to rethink its commitment to standards—or the right way.

Competing by offering features other browsers do not (easier downloads, streamlined user interface) or by consolidating other browsers’ best features (Opera’s Speed Dial, Firefox’s auto-complete) avoids this risk, as improvements—or at any rate, changes—to the browser’s user interface have no bearing on the display of existing web content.

Competing by supporting web standards ahead of the pack, although not entirely without risk, would also be a reasonable and exciting way to compete. When one browser supports a standard, it goads other browser makers into also supporting it. Because Safari, for instance, supports @font-face, Firefox is not far behind in supporting that CSS spec. @font-face raises font licensing problems, but we’ll discuss those another time. The risk that concerns us here is when a browser supports an emerging specification before it is finalized, thus, essentially, freezing the spec before it is ready. But that is the traditional dance between spec authors and browser makers.

For web standards and web content, we once again live in interesting times. Welcome, Chrome!

[tags]google, chrome, googlechrome, beta, software, browsers, standards, webbrowsers, webstandards, bugs, standards-compliant, alternatestyles, alternatecss[/tags]

65 thoughts on “A bug in Google Chrome

  1. I’m interested to see the outcome a few months, or even a year, down the road. I really hope Google decides to play it smart and not turn to proprietary code, therefore empowering Microsoft to do the same. It would be nice to see them push the envelope for web standards here.

    Also, it would be nice to have a beta on mac.

  2. I’ve got to be honest, I haven’t had a chance to use Chrome because of an error. Every time I open the program an error dialog box pops up and a cute little message telling me something is amiss is displayed.

    So far Chrome isn’t looking too good, but I’ll wait a few versions to try again.

  3. With regard to the bug with alternate styles: It’s the same bug that Safari has had on my site for years, and continues to have – the on-screen display is completely littered with print-style amends (like placing the URL as generated content after each hyperlink). It’s not unique to Chrome (but highly annoying anyway) – try viewing my site with Chrome or Safari, both will screw up, suggesting it’s a webkit problem: http://mattwilcox.net/

    With regard to Chrome – i actually like it, I love the snappy feel and I love the minimal and inoffensive interface. But until it gets extensions like Firebug it won’t replace Firefox, no matter how good the rest of the product is. Extensions, the ability to customise the functionality of the browser, is the huge killer feature of Firefox that sets it apart from other browsers.

  4. I have been using Chrome since it’s release (12pm EST 9-02-08) and believe it has the potential to be an amazing browser. First impressions, it is a simple and fast browser with some great tools under the hood. It currently does not have extensions so I will continue to use Firefox as my default. It completely beats IE in form and function but the challenge remains that most users will not search out a new browser. They will just stick with what comes on their machines. Lets hope Google plays this well and puts pressure on Microsoft to make their product better.

  5. Chrome is not at all shiny, unless they make HUGE improvements on font rendering and png handling in the near future Opera will remain my first love and Firefox my adored ‘bit on the side’

  6. Shouldn’t Chrome share the same rendering bugs with other Webkit-based browsers? I’m hoping these isssues will be quickly patched by the Chrome and Webkit teams given the high profile of this browser.

    I used it quite a bit yesterday and really enjoyed it… Even if it was on a Dell craptop and not my Mac.

    I hope as the browser matures (it is only at v0.2 now…) It will get even better.

  7. Every time I open the program an error dialog box pops up and a cute little message telling me something is amiss is displayed. So far Chrome isn’t looking too good, but I’ll wait a few versions to try again.

    That’s strange that you’re having issues, but I would have to disagree that it isn’t looking too good. Chrome is blindingly fast and for a casual browser, is a comparative alternative to Firefox externally.

    If it weren’t for some extensions in Firefox that I can’t live without, I would seriously consider using Chrome, even in its beta state.

  8. Having a little experience with a minority share, standards implementing browser, of course you know I agree with your overall observations Jeffrey.

    However there is one more way a new browser could compete (cause people to switch) without relying on proprietary features/extensions or even bleeding edge (not ready for primetime) standards support.


    From experience/studies back in the day, a browser that provided reasonably equivalent user experiece / feature support, but was about 50% faster than it’s competitors is enough to get most people to switch.

    Given Google’s history for relentlessly simplifying their search user interface and focusing on being faster and faster than any of their search engine competitors, I expect the same competitive approach/focus in Chrome.

    Pure raw speed and responsiveness.

    I for one welcome faster and faster web interface experiences. Death to the spinning rainbow beachball cursor (or equivalent hourglass) and shame be upon the programmers that eggregiously waste otherwise incredibly abundant CPU cycles and squander users’ precious time, attention and patience.

  9. Hi Jeffrey. I too welcome Chrome to the party. But I came to point out that Opera is developing support for @font-face, too. There’s an experimental release from March at http://labs.opera.com/news/2008/03/28/ but we need to do more work on its stability before releasing it into the main builds.

    My biggest hope with Chrome is that the publicity it’s getting on mainstream media (it was on the TV evening news last night!) will drive home to consumers that the blue E is not the same thing as the Internet.

  10. At present, this seems like a solution waiting for a problem.

    Increased competition is certainly a good thing, and will drive innovation and put pressure on the major player (singular) to further lift their game.

    But we don’t lack for good browsers.

    Performance is largely irrelevant. The few other borrowed features are nice, but it doesn’t offer anything particularly new, and I don’t know of too many users who were suffering from the Google’s-lack-of-browser-share issue, which seems to be the only problem it attempts to solve.

    Between Safari, Opera, Firefox and soon IE8 (and Google Chrome), we certainly wont lack for good browsers.

    But that’s not the problem, is it?

    Then again it could be a raging success. Like, you know, GTalk.

  11. So far I like GChrome, but it won’t replace Firefox for me just yet—I need my add-ons, extensions and plugins like Firebug or even the IE Developer Toolbar. It’s fast and seems to render fairly well, and I’m glad there’s another browser out there that can take advantage of CSS3’s benefits.

    I tried to run it through the Acid3 tests, and it seems to have failed [77/100 LINKTEST FAILED]… but the http://acid3.acidtests.org site seems to be really busy at the moment so I couldn’t get any further. So far, it’s nice to have another alternate browser and hopefully it’ll push IE8 to improve (and catch-up) and help move the browser market forward with some innovation and an overall better user experience.

  12. That is my biggest complaint about Google Chrome is now we have another browser to test for, especially since it gets it’s scripting engine from a different source than it’s rendering engine, thus creating another unique instance of a browser. Had Google just used webkit’s scripting engine along with the rendering engine they are already using we wouldn’t have this problem, but now you’ve shown us that even using webkit’s rendering engine isn’t enough. I’ll stick with my memory hog version of Firefox and keep all my great addons.

  13. I agree with Tantek on this. Although bells and whistles sure are sexy, so is blistering speed. Even if it loses a majority on what it lacks, it will certainly gain a significant share for what it does extraordinarily well.

    Also, thanks Matt! Now we know, and knowing is half the battle.

  14. @Matt: Chrome may not many plug-ins yet, but it does appear to have an implementation of Firebug. Right-click on a page and choose “Inspect element”. A new window will pop up that shows the page DOM in the left pane, and the active style rules in the right pane. Click on items in the panes to edit them, and watch the page change on the fly. It’s not exactly Firebug, but it’s got a lot of the same functionality.

  15. Google will take over the world, if they haven’t already.

    I highly suspect Chrome will definitely have some proprietary features, or (chrome code). If not right away, then definitely in the future. As more people become dependent on Google’s software, it will be easy to persuade them to switch Chrome for “more features.”

    I think it’s interesting, Google’s trying to kill MS in a very MS way.

  16. Google wants its web applications to dominate, not its web browser. For that, they need stable, secure, and high-performance web clients that aren’t frozen to last decade’s feature set. When they say that they don’t care if Chrome itself succeeds so long as its influence is felt, I take that at face value. Chrome may be their boldest move yet to promote the open web, but I think that it’s intended to complement, not supersede, Google’s other efforts in this area: the Gears plugin, financial support of the Mozilla Foundation, HTML 5 standards work, etc.

  17. I have installed Chrome both at work and at home, a laptop and 2 desktops. As excited as I am trying to be about it, so far I am not that impressed. Yeah, it is cool and all, a good idea and minimalistic for sure, but I do not see a noticeable speed increase over Fx3… some pages maybe yes, most I would say about equally fast. Also, on all 3 machines, there are times when perhaps my mouse freezes for 1-2 seconds, or I close the Chrome browser then have to wait as my machine is unresponsive for 1-4 seconds. This is new behavior as of yesterday’s Chrome install. It makes me wonder what is really going on in the background. Yes I want to love it but the extensions and reliability that I am getting out of Fx3 will be hard to beat. Fx3 will remain my default browser for now.
    Jim S.
    Jacksonville, FL

  18. That’s strange that you’re having issues, but I would have to disagree that it isn’t looking too good.

    I’m not sure about the issues I’m having, but about it not looking good…well that one’s just for me I guess. Having Chrome work (at all) for me is not looking like a good prospect at this time.

  19. Have to agree with Tantek that we cannot overlook the impact that raw speed may have as a pretty significant differentiator for Chrome. It will be interesting to see if performance suffers as the browser goes through iterative development over the next few months.

    Also agree with Neal that another browser to test for is the last thing anyone really wants but you can’t really blame Google for that. Also, the renewed interest in a browser war may encourage more users to switch to something, *anything* other than IE6 which has got to be good for everyone.

  20. I think the issues with font embedding go farther than copyright. The new font-handling code provides yet another attack vector for bad people to try to hit with buffer-overloads and other exploits. In designs where you’re just using a headline and a couple of labels, embedded fonts are going to use 2-5x more bandwidth than the graphics.

    As for font piracy… the world doesn’t need embedded fonts for that when you can download an unlocked version of the Adobe Font Folio or the entire catalogs of many foundries from P2P networks. Alternatively, there are thousands of free fonts on the web that wouldn’t necessarily pose problems.

    But my biggest question while reading the post you linked to about your copyright concerns… why are font designers entitled to any more protections than photographers, musicians, filmmakers, or writers? All of their works are freely embedded into web pages without a second thought or any special protections. What makes font designers so special that they should be given this consideration that no other artists have been given?

  21. Chrome currently runs only in Windows. You figure that out.

    Befuddled? It’s not that hard to figure out. For every Mac user, there are 10 Windows users. I don’t know why you Mac enthusiasts have such a hard time understanding this never-ending reality. By now I would expect you people to be accustomed to be second (or third) in line. Plus, you said it yourself, the browser was created to erode Microsoft’s browser dominance. In order to do that, do you really expect them to focus on Mac users? Anyways…

    +1 for Tantek. I don’t care about add-ons, plugins, extensions, or any of that custom crap. I want hardcore performance. Oh, and I’d also like to be able to fry any remote web server that tries to dish me some Flash (which still doesn’t operate in my 64-bit browser).

    I’d switch to Chrome in a heartbeat if it could download and render pages as fast as Google can spit them out.

  22. There is another bug with pdf files.
    It won’t open them. Just sits there and crunches.
    I like everything else alright.
    Not bad for a first cut.

  23. You mention, to illustrate a point, that Safari supports @font-face – interestingly enough Chrome seems not to as yet (which I had thought it may have done being based on webkit)

    For simple web browsing I’m finding Chrome fast and responsive (especially when opening the app the first time) However in terms of actual web use and also development there is still nothing to touch firefox with it’s great feature set and wide variety if add-ons – but it is kinda slow and crashy at times (probably due to those great add-ons) I think Chrome is a great start tho and I’ll watch with interest and an open mind.

  24. 1) Embedded fonts would be great for design and accessability.
    2) DRM never works.
    3) Should we also cripple browsers so they can’t have embedded mp3s and videos? Or should we separate the tools from their uses? Not all fonts are copyrighted, you know.

  25. Nathan:

    Copyright is not the same as licensing.

    Fonts come with licensing agreements. If you don’t like this, don’t use professional fonts.

    Nobody’s suggesting that we “cripple” browsers. The suggestion is that a W3C specification for embedding fonts should avoid encouraging font piracy. The notion of embedding fonts is wonderful. But an idea is only as good as its execution.

    I admire Hakon Lie, the creator of CSS, to death; but somehow @font-face failed to account for licensing. This is a serious problem whether you understand it or not.

  26. It is not yet clear to me whether Chrome will compete the wrong way—offering Chrome-only features based on Chrome-only code

    Isn’t the Chrome source code available as the open source project Chromium? It seems like Google is doing all the right things here. (said while crossing fingers)

  27. I didn’t think that Google Chrome get most users in the web. iCab goes down at this moment as Safari was delivered with Mac OS and IE is delivered with Microsoft Windows. Google Chrome is at present only available for Windows, so how can Google Chrome start an attack against Safari or IE?

    Google Chrome is fast, have bugs and is in beta status. I think at present it is only interesting for web developers and not for other users. So let’s see, what Google Chrome will bring in the near future.

  28. I enjoy the browser very much so far. I enjoy you positive review of Chrome. I was worried a lot of web developers would feel “overwhelmed” by the release of another web browser.

  29. i think the only problem with the browser is the rendering of the page style, i think they should study rendering more from firefox

  30. I was told Google new browser Chrome [beta] tracks your keystrokes and sends them to Google. This is the default setting. It will send your search desires even before you hit enter. So porno sites, bank sites etc that you change your mind about will be logged and sent to Cyberspace to never die and haunt you forever.

  31. It’s interesting that you mention that Webkit is used for Safari, as it’s only used for Safari 3+, and is actually KHTML. KHTML is from KDE, which is for Linux. Safari is available on Windows and Mac only, yet is based on Linux only code. Maybe you can explain that little fact?

  32. Well, Chrome has started working for me again… Apparently, Google patched the latest release…

    As for a Chrome bug, I’ve found one. It has some quirky rendering of div and form elements… I can’t place my finger on what exactly is happening. But I have a page that looks good in all modern browsers (including IE!) but mysteriously falls apart in Chrome…

    ugh. One more browser to hack…

  33. Neither Chrome nor Firefox are as good as IE. Neither of them (or any of the other Microsoft-would-be’s) have given any thought to simple web merchants like myself who build their own webshops using basic web design programs such as Serif WebPlus. With these programs, we do not control the style sheets and cannot make the alterations necessary to make our websites display correctly in webkit-based browsers.

    Why don’t we use web design professionals? Simple. They are far too expensive and more importantly leave us at the mercy of a technology we cannot control and therefore we have no control over our businesses. There are literally thousands of us out here in the real world who sell over the internet. Until the geeks who design these alternative browsers start thinking of us instead of their fellow geeks, they will not successfully compete with IE.

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