Google’s new web browser, Chrome, was launched yesterday. When I ran it I was expecting a brushed metal look similar to Apple’s Safari browser but there is no visual chrome effect. It is still a beta release, meaning it is not expected to be reliable yet, so I won’t go into the problems i found with it, for the most part it functioned very well. The best new feature is the recently visited sites page that welcomes you when you open the browser window or tab, you get a selection of preview images of the sites you use the most. Another new feature that I have not yet experienced in action is the concept that when a page crashes it will only crash the tab and not the browser, meaning that other tabs are left open. In Firefox the other tabs are opened as they were prior to the crash when you re-start the browser , so Chrome takes this a step further. Chrome’s address bar is merged with the Google search box to offer a selection of suggestion web addresses, previously visited sites and search terms as you type. This sounds appealing but after a few uses I haven’t warmed to it yet, when I search in Firefox I get a lot more suggestions for search terms which is handy when you are not sure exactly what something is called, by combining the address bar with the search bar the suggestions become less plentiful or relevant. Finally, Google claim that this browser is faster with today’s application rich Internet… I haven’t really been able to detect the difference in casual browsing but I can confirm it is certainly not slower than its competitors. Currently I still prefer Firefox, but with Chrome in development and Internet Explorer 8 being released soon, with an easier to use interface, the web certainly seems to be getting faster, easier and more powerful to use.
The latest beta version of Google Earth, available from http://earth.google.com/ has two new sky related features.
I was wondering if anybody had found a hack to make it feel like you were flying a plane over Google Earth scenery, and I was pleased to find that Google have done it themselves. If you hold down CTRL+ALT+A (according to their instructions) you launch a flight simulator, choose your aicraft from two available, choose a starting point, and you can take to the skies. I have tested it by crashing into some trees in Venice. Details on all the controls are here.
On my computer CTRL+ALT+A didn’t work, something to do with having a British keyboard layout, but using the right hand (as opposed to left) CTRL with A (no ALT) worked instead.
There is also an option, which I have not tested yet, to explore space. You choose a location on earth from which to look at the skies and then click the sky button, from there you can explore our solar system and much of the known universe beyond it.
There are two new mapping services from Google, both of which are really smart.
You can search for any location from a typical Google search bar and when you have got your map you not only can you zoom in and out, get directions, and add satellite imagery, but you can also smoothly scroll the map any distance in any direction just by dragging it with your mouse. If you want good satellite imagery of the UK you should stick to Multimap or Streetmap, but positioning the map exactly as you like it has always been a problem with those services.
Link: Google Maps
This is not that different from Google Maps in function, but the user interface is excellent. You have to download the software to access a 3D interface to global mapping data, though the bulk of the best features cover the USA. Try to find your house and zoom in, again satellite data is not as clear as some UK mapping services offer, but then search for Bahai Temple and click on the resulting link, you will zoom out from your home and fly over to Wilmette in the USA where you will fly down to earth just above the Baha’i House of Worship there. Go down the road into Chicago, or another major US city, and you will find 3d recreations of many major buildings in the city, adjust the tilt feature on the navigation panel and you can travel through the city between the tall buildings. The intended main fuction of this service is to enable you to easily locate locations and services in any area, but it is also good fun to try out. I tried looking in Haifa too, the quality is again not very detailed but if you zoom in just south of the harbour you will make out the green of the terrace gardens and the glimmer of the dome from the Shrine of the Bab and the roofs of the Seat of the Universal House of Justice, the International Teaching Centre (I think) and the Archives Building.
Link: Google Earth
Both of these service are in still under development and may not work all of the time.