2011-07-08

Google Chrome: Wasting Screen Estate

It's crazy, but it's true: The browser most recognised for its screen estate saving, sleek and minimal design is wasting the most of it. When I line up all the browsers on my main machine, it looks like this:

some browsers

That is, from left to right: Chromium 12, Firefox 5, SeaMonkey (aka Mozilla) 2 and links2 running in graphics mode. On the very right there's the good ol' xterm, just for comparison.

Now, I do feel it's somewhat unfair to blame Chrome for wasting most of my screen. After all, it was Chrome which started that "less is more" design trend in web browsers. However, SeaMonkey's fold-able toolbars are older than Chrome - and they work quite well (apart from the guessing game that starts when you want to unfold some toolbar - I never seem to hit the right little arrow and mostly end up unfolding everything, just to delete some bookmark or something). So, if you restrict yourself to mainstream browsers, SeaMonkey clearly wins in terms of preserving screen estate - and it uses the Gecko rendering engine that also powers Firefox.

If you go further to the right on my little screenshot, you'll see an even better solution: links2 does not use any kind of toolbar and only displays some sort of status bar above the rendered site. In that browser, URL entry works modal - which may seem a bad idea at first, but ...well, in fact it's not a bad idea at all.

Additionally, links2 really is blazingly fast in everything it does. The web feels turbocharged in that browser - albeit, a bit ugly. Links2 doesn't support newer web design stuff, like CSS floats or CSS spriting techniques - but everything else looks quite nice.

But I digress. My conclusion is that we live in crazy times: Nearly all mainstream browsers are actually usable and work well and fast enough to not cut the normal programming workflow (at least for me).

Preserving screen estate seems to be more and more a major design goal for browser UIs. After years of using text-mode browsers for quick research while programming, that fact actually made me switch to the "big ones" some time ago. I now use mainly Firefox - which is not as speedy as links2, but quick enough. And the problem of having two sets of bookmarks in two different browsers is a thing of the past for me now.

So, browsers are quite fine. Just don't think about the enormous code bases, do not shed a thought about Chrome's questionable tactic of forking (as opposed to of merely using) third-party libraries, do not try to build any big browser yourself, and keep on smiling as long as the stuff just works. Which it does.

For now.



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