Can We Please Stop Calling Chrome A ‘Web Browser’?

The Chrome web browser is a memory hog. I get it. We all get it. We’ve all seen the memes, and nobody’s denying it. But using a lot of RAM isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s only bad if it’s wasting the RAM by not doing anything important. It’s like a Shelby Mustang GT. Sure, it uses a lot of gas, but it’s totally worth it. If a Toyota Camry used as much as gas as a Mustang, nobody would buy it. But the Mustang…the Mustang puts that gasoline to very good use, so nobody complains.

But does Chrome put your memory to good use?

Yes.

There are a couple reasons for Chrome’s lust for your RAM, not the least of which is Chrome’s tab sandboxing, which helps to make Chrome one of the most secure browsers, if not the most secure browser out there.

But the other reason Chrome consumes memory almost as insatiably as I consume Vanilla Coke is because it does stuff. Lots of stuff. Shelby Mustang GT stuff.

Thanks to Chrome apps, and extensions, the Chrome “browser” is so much more than a browser. Don’t believe me? Let’s go back in time 5 or 10 years and take a look at yourself.

There you are, sitting in front of your computer. You’re about to play a game. What do you do? Open a game application. Ok now it’s 1 in the morning and you need to actually do some work. So you close the game, and you open a word processing app, probably Microsoft Word. You need to do some research so, you have a web browser open, probably IE or maybe FireFox with your favorite search engine open (Ask Jeeves anyone?). If you need to crop, or touch up a photo or just completely design something from scratch for your project, you’d open up Photoshop. You might have to save your work and close your word processor for Photoshop to run properly without completely bogging your computer down. You’re probably listening to music the whole time but if you’re smart, you’re using a Sony Walkman, or iPod because there’s just no way you can have iTunes running while anything else is running.

With any luck, you’re able to create your graphic and write your paper without your computer locking up.

Those tasks all take memory. A lot of memory. Not to mention a decent amount of money. Fast forward to today, and nothing much has changed.

Unless you’re a user of Chrome, that is.

Let’s come back to 2016 and take a look at me at work. I got my Bluetooth headphones in, streaming The New Basement Tapes via Google Music in the Chrome browser. I provide customer support for a software company via a chat service called Intercom, so I have a tab open for Intercom in my Chrome browser. We use Slack internally to communicate with each other at my company, so I have a couple tabs open for that in my Chrome browser. I got hangouts.google.com open in my Chrome browser in case I need to do a video chat with a customer. I’m also responsible for maintaining the support website which occasionally means creating graphics, so I have my graphic design tool, Pixlr open in my Chrome browser, as well as LucidPress (an InDesign alternative) and possibly PicMonkey, depending on what exactly I’m doing, all open in my Chrome browser. We’re a Google Apps company, so I have drive.google.com open in my Chrome browser in case I need to create a document or share a file. I have various workflow tools open such as Quip, Wrike, and Chargebee all open in my Chrome browser. Not to mention various tools that we created internally for our own use, open in my Chrome browser.

Not only am I doing all this in Chrome, I’m doing all this on my $360 (that’s what I paid for it at the time, you can get it now for $280) Asus Chromebox with an i3 processor and 8GB of RAM, and I have them all open at the same time. I’m not closing apps so others can run smoothly.

Also, All those apps I mentioned are either free, or inexpensive. Try to imagine using Microsoft Office, Photoshop, InDesign and iTunes all at the same time on a Windows machine with an i3 processor. Now imagine how much money you spent on those programs, and how much you spend every year or so to get the latest version.

Now try not to kill yourself.

I do all this while the $2500 MacBook Pro that my company gave me collects dust underneath the monitor stand holding up one of the two 4k monitors my Chromebox is driving. If I ever need to do something on the Mac (a very rare occurrence, I assure you) I just use Chrome Remote Desktop and remote into it.

Literally every single thing I do at work is done on a Chromebox, via the Chrome “web browser”. But of course, you don’t need a Chromebook or a Chromebox to take advantage of Chrome. Windows, OSX and Linux users can all take advantage of the power of Chrome.

So I think we need to petition Google to stop calling Chrome a web browser. It’s more of an application suite than a web browser. Microsoft Edge is a web browser. Chrome is so much more than that.

Now this is usually the part where people start chiming in with their edge cases. “But what about [enter some enterprise app that very few people need]” or “But what about [enter feature of Microsoft Word that gDocs doesn’t have that 12 people in the world use]”.

Yes yes I get it. It’s true, not everybody can live 100% Windows/OSX free like I do. Not everybody can get by with a $300 computer. Some people need $2500 computers and expensive, robust applications to do their work. There are some things that you simply cannot do inside the Chrome web browser. But if you’re honest with yourself, you know that that list is small, and getting smaller every day.

How about you? What things do you do in Chrome that 5 years ago you would have been laughed out of town for suggesting it could be done in a web browser? How many of your day to day programs have you been able to replace with Chrome?

17 responses

  1. I always thought of it more as an OS, but maybe application suite is the best term.

    1. Well, it is an OS if you’re using a Chromebook! 🙂

    2. I agree. Chrome is about as much an application suite as Windows is an application suite.

  2. Memory Hog.
    If you run Windows – Internet Explorer is there and turns on – every time
    you get on the Internet.
    THERE IS NO WAY TO UNINSTALL IE.

  3. James, Chromebook user here. Love the chrome. Call it whatever but for me it is everything. I think it is more than a web browser for sure. Perhaps a mini OS.

  4. I particularly loved the suicidal tendency allusion regarding the low spec windows scenario!
    And yes, I’m 99% Chrome OS functional. Android in CrOS may help to resolve that 1% as well.
    Chrome is it’s own environment, not a 2D browser.

  5. I didn’t know about Quip. Thanks for mentioning it.

  6. The inability to do scanning – even with a SANE compatible scanner – is the ONLY thing that keeps me from being 100% Chrome OS. My Samsung XE300M22-B01US Chromebox just flatout gives nothing but a fantastic computing experience.

  7. Well said! I particularly love the Mustang metaphor. Great read!

  8. I’m still amazed by Soundtrap. I never expected to se a full and complex music editor running online. Times have changed, indeed.

  9. Good article and mostly agree. Still very hampered by lack of an easy-to-use PDF editor (for highlighting/annotating and saving PDFs locally). Otherwise love my 2015 Toshiba Chromebook 2 with I3, Full HD, backlit keyboard and ability to upgrade SSD. Adding Crouton in a window let’s me also run Firefox, Abiword, etc. in a window, almost like a native application.

  10. I agree that chrome does a lot. But what of the things you mentioned can’t you do in Edge? Or Firefox? Chrome is no better or worse than any other web browser 🙂

    1. You’re right, the things I mentioned can be done in edge. I should have talked more about Chrome apps and extensions

  11. Great points. I have an expensive Windows computer with 16 GB’s of RAM and a 4K monitor, but I find myself more often than not on my Acre 15.6 HD Chromebook more often than not. When I’m on my Windows desktop computer, I rarely use anything outside of Chrome, except for my favorite music player Foobar2000. You’re so right. Things have changed dramatically in recent years. I don’t miss those old limitations. Another Chrome OS positive is that it is virtually fool-proof. I bought one for my 67 year old mom and I literally haven’t had to “fix” her computer in years! No anti-virus updates and renewals is a big burden lifted off my shoulders. She has occasional questions, but she’s a real whiz on that thing! The simplicity of Chrome is nothing to scoff at. At this point, I’d be lost without it – and so would my mom.

  12. My Chromebook has completely replaced all my windows based PCs. I don’t miss them at all. The addition of Android apps were the final addition chrome books needed. it is truly spectacular to run apps and chrome os side by side!!!

  13. As for memory problems it has for a long time been irritating that gmail (mail.google.com) was eating up memory after only a few searches and some navigation. It could use more than 2-3 GB of ram and slow even my 4 and 6 GB chromebooks and -boxes. The solution was to exit the gmail page and start a new page. Now within the last month I believe this memory leak has disappeared.

    Now I hope that the Google Docs memory leak gets fixed too.

    BTW this is not a problem on chromebooks only, but it is more severe on chromebooks, as you cannot install programs to handle your texts, and as Google Docs is preferable to other online text editors.

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