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Google Chrome vs. Internet Explorer 8

Randall C. Kennedy | Sept. 4, 2008
Overall, both IE 8 Beta 2 and the Chrome Beta look like compelling options.

How these two variations on a theme will hold-up in the real world remains to be seen. My take is that Google's purist approach will ultimately prove more robust, but at a cost in terms of resource consumption. In fact, both Chrome and IE 8 stretch the limits of current PC hardware by gobbling up enormous amounts of RAM while saturating the system with lots of concurrent execution threads.

This new development -- browsers chewing-up more memory than their host OS -- is something I documented in my Enterprise Desktop blog earlier this week. At the time, I was shocked by how bloated IE 8 had become, consuming 332MB of RAM to render a simple 10-site/10-tab browsing scenario. Then I evaluated Google's Chrome and my expectations were reset yet again. Not only did the "fresh start" Chrome use nearly as much RAM (324MB) as the legacy-burdened IE 8 during peak browsing loads, it actually "out-bloated" IE 8 over the duration of the test, consuming an average of 267MB versus. IE 8's 211MB (you can read more about these test scenarios at the blog).

Clearly, these are products targeted at the next generation of PC hardware. With nearly 20 percent of a 2GB PC's memory consumed by Web browsing, and with IE 8 spinning more than 170 execution threads on Vista to complete the same aforementioned 10-site scenario (Chrome spins a much more conservative 48 threads), we'll need to rethink our ideas of acceptable minimum system requirements. At the very least, you're going to need multiple processing cores and many gigabytes of RAM to support this new, more demanding take on Web-centric computing.

To be fair, I must mention that both IE 8 and Google Chrome are still in the Beta stages of development. Chrome, in particular, is in its first public test release cycle, while IE 8 is only now being made available in a "feature complete" form (previous IE Betas were notably short on innovation). And it's also important to consider all of the non-architectural changes that these browsers bring to the table -- most notably, enhanced rendering performance and usability.

Lean or luxurious

As with any Beta release, I'm loathe to discuss performance characteristics beyond a simple "they seem a lot faster than IE 7" type of empirical observation (though others are reporting that Chrome clobbers the competition, especially when it comes to JavaScript execution). However, usability is fair game, and here it becomes a classic debate between fans of the "kitchen sink" approach and purists in the "less is more" crowd.

Internet Explorer 8 is the "kitchen sink" browser. In addition to carrying forward the legacy of Microsoft's much-maligned ActiveX architecture, IE 8 adds a host of new capabilities including Web Slices, which are sections of a Web page that are isolated and reproduced in a separate, updatable mini-window; Accelerators, which are basically context menu options that activate common Web services such as dictionary lookup or translation; and InPrivate Browsing, aka "porn mode," which lets you surf without leaving behind a browser or search history, cookies, temporary files, and other evidence of where you've been. Microsoft has also revamped the address bar to provide better auto-complete suggestions and expanded the dedicated Search field to include images and other rich media as part of the drop-down results set.


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