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Clash of the Titans

Strange as it may sound, the latest salvo in the browser wars wasn’t announced at a high-profile do, or even a mega-hyped web launch. It took the unusual shape of a web comic book in which Google announced to the world that it intended to change the way browsers were made.

If you’re just catching up with the news, Chrome is Google’s long anticipated, much delayed entry into the Internet browser market, one that’s still largely dominated by Microsoft. While they slug it out, we tap you in to the next-generation browser wars as they pan out over your Internet connection, and get you started on which side to pick.

Shiny, needs polish?

Coming from Google, it’s tempting to believe Chrome will change the face of the Internet as we know it — for most of us, Google knows the Internet best, right? A peep into the launch comic book (available for free at reveals some fundamental design decisions that may well upset Microsoft’s cart.

For starters, instead of launching all the web pages you’re looking at, at one point of time, under one program (process), Chrome starts a new copy of its program for every tab, window, and plug-in you’re using. That way, when one site acts up or slows down, it won’t affect anything else that you have open, say an important mail you’re composing. Control-Alt-Delete, close the errant window, and you’re back to business.

Starting Chrome up is insanely fast, it’s noticeably faster to get running than any of the browsers on this page. It opens up a dynamic home page with sites you visit most often — rather useful. And like its Google stable mates, Chrome has a remarkably minimalist interface. No fancy menus, no distractions, no space-hogging logos and buttons – everything is bundled into two icons to the right of the address bar. Not an ordinary address bar, mind you — the Omnibar, Google’s address-cum-search-cum-all-purpose bar lets you type in a URL or a search term, or both, and Chrome takes you there. And yes, if you’re thinking all of this maximises your screen space for browsing, you’re spot on!

And taking a leaf out of Microsoft’s book, Chrome offers a private browsing option called Incognito, which is essentially a special type of new window where nothing you do will be logged or saved on your computer. I can only smirk when I think of the most obvious use for this.

Of course, you should know this is an early Windows-only beta, indicative of things to come but still not the most polished product around. It needs more add-ons a la Mozilla Firefox, and I personally won’t switch unless critical work and finance sites start working properly on Chrome. And, if you believe the paranoid conspiracy theorists, now Google will know more about me than I know of myself!

Fighting fit

Pity then that Chrome’s launch almost eclipsed the latest beta release of Internet Explorer (IE) 8 in the headlines. Microsoft’s still fighting fit though, and the latest beta does offer insight into some rather intriguing features that the next version of the browser will bring.

To be fair, some are borrowed, like the smart address bar which searches your browsing history, bookmarks, and adds search suggestions of its own as you type. Some may find the new Accelerators feature useful — let’s say you select some text, IE then lets you can map a location, translate a foreign language, blog selected text and then some more — and rather neatly implemented too.

In addition, you get the ability to restore all open pages that were loaded when IE crashes, unlike the current version that restarts after a crash, but only displays the home page.

And of course, you get InPrivate Browsing. Nicknamed ‘porn mode,’ InPrivate Browsing lets you surf the Web without generating a history of either your searches or visited pages. Unlike Chrome though, the entire browser turns private temporarily when you switch this feature on — Chrome lets you surf private pages along with your regular surfing.

In many ways, Internet Explorer 8 will be the browser that it should have been all along. It complies with web standards better than previous versions, there are enhanced ‘Smart Screen’ filters to also detect sites that might distribute malware or trick you into parting with your bank information. And it’ll come packaged with one Windows update or the other, so you’re most likely to see it when it launches.

Windows — now that’s one distribution mechanism Google still has to figure out how to beat.

The usual suspect(s)

For a browser that proved that competing and winning over users weaned on IE was possible, Mozilla Firefox has grown and matured into a very serious alternative. It’s still the most feature-rich in terms of extensions, by far.

In the works is a new 3.1 version, which has enhanced Javascript acceleration capabilities, dubbed TraceMonkey. These will allow you to load and access traditionally heavy sites like GMail a lot faster than the other browsers on the page. If any, Firefox’s main concern is Chrome evolving to a point where it displaces Firefox as the highest-profile ‘alternative’ browser.

Now Safari, Apple’s browser is a large part of Chrome’s DNA — Chrome uses the Webkit rendering engine, which is the open-source version of the one Apple developed for its Safari browser. Safari has a little-known Windows version, but it’s on the Mac where it rules the roost as the default browser. Chrome can give Mac users one more alternative (other than Firefox), but clearly, it’s not the Mac market that’s the hotbed of action in the browser market.

A tough call

Here’s a phone that’ll weather the elements, maybe even outlast you. The LM801 from Condurro features an integrated flashlight, magnetic compass, barometer/

altimeter, FM radio, and thermometer, all bundled neatly into a yellow shell that is waterproof and dust proof. It serves a niche, but I can think of lots of us who’d like our phones to take a licking and keep on ticking. With 3.5mm wall thickness and a magnesium frame inside, it is tough enough to survive most drops. And it also includes a laser pointer for your meetings — what’s with no other phone having one?


Rise and shine

Wake up properly, and your day goes off well; get jolted out of bed, and it doesn’t, right? Try the Philips’ Wake-up Light, a device that simulates the rising of the sun by gradually getting brighter as your wake-up time draws near. And then there’s the chirping of birds, the roar of the waves, or even a frog’s croak to rouse you from your slumber.

Anything to take the pain out of waking up…

Price: $120

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