Friday, May 28, 2010

Sometimes faster is indeed better

One of the important factors in a good user experience in a software product is performance (or, more accurately, the user’s perception of performance). That is, how responsive to user input does the product appear to be?

I’ve been thinking about performance since my switch from using Firefox to using Google Chrome as my primary web browser. Safari remains my secondary browser. I still use Firefox on occasion for a few specific tasks.

The first time that I used Chrome, I was struck by how much snappier it seemed to be compared with Firefox. There are probably more than a few technical factors that feed into that perception, along with important goals that the Chrome team set out to meet. As an aside, it’s well worth talking the time to read the comic book created by Scott McLeod in 2008 to explain Chrome.

Interestingly, once I had grown accustomed to my newly peppy browsing experience, I started to notice specific points of slowness. A big culprit was when the browser consulted a name server (part of the domain name system, or DNS) to find the location of a given web resource. I had always known that this was a bottleneck, but it really stood out now. DNS is typically handled by your internet service provider, but there are alternative DNS sources available. Hoping to address DNS slowness, I decided to try Google Public DNS, which launched late last year.

Lookups became far quicker to resolve — in all my browsers, not just Chrome — though slower sites are now more obvious than before, as resolving the domain name is dealt with right away (Twitter comes to mind in that regard).

I’m a big fan of Google. What strikes me here is the lengths to which they have gone to improve the user experience for their products by attacking performance in a big way. In addition to the work that they have done directly on their existing products (such as Search, Gmail, and Reader), they went far further and created a new browser and a new DNS product to speed up the performance of the web for all their users. In this case, where the performance gains are real and measurable, reality is also perception.


  1. I've been using Chrome here and there recently, and I must say the browser is very nice - especially because the two plugins I use in Firefox are available, or are included as default functionality. However - and I know I'm going to sound paranoid here - I am still very skeptical of making it my full time browser because of Google's nature of indexing everything.

    As a user of Google search, I can at least choose to NOT search for something in Google and use an alternate search engine. As a user of Google Chrome, they have the ability to index everything I do and then target ads at me based on browsing behaviour outside my Google searches and use of Google web tools. As someone who's taken courses in cryptography and computer ethics, I find it hard to accept these things - which prevents me from using Google Chrome full time.

  2. I think that Google is aware of the concerns that you and many others (including me, to some extent) have. It's worth spending some time reading their privacy notice for Chrome, as well as some of the pages that it links to.

    If nothing else, though, I'm pleased that Chrome is pushing the state of the browser forward. That will benefit users of Firefox and Safari, as well as other browsers.