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The Way Business Is Moving

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Issue Date: October 2008

Chroming the Web

October 2008
Simon Dingle

Google has launched its own browser in the form of Chrome. Some are calling it ‘game changing’ while others are querying why Google would chuck yet another browser into the market.

When Google launched in the late ’90s many found it confusing that it chose to introduce a new search engine into the market. We already had Yahoo!, Microsoft search, Lycos and others. The market was tied up. Who in their right mind would choose to launch a new search engine then? Now Google has launched Chrome – a new web browser in a market dominated by Internet Explorer and Firefox. Only this time, no one is laughing. But many still wonder why.
To answer that question Google has prepared an elaborate online comic, illustrated and adapted by famous cartoonist Scott McCloud, that can be viewed at http://www.google.com/googlebooks/chrome/
The gist of it is that other browsers just were not cutting the cheese in terms of new web applications and services.
For the greater good
Anders Thorhauge Sandholm was the project manager on Chrome and says that a change was needed in the way browsers address content.
“It is not as if everyone was banging their heads against the wall because the Internet was not working properly,” he says. “On the other hand, things have changed online that affect the way we use the web.”
“The first websites were static and text-heavy. They had content on them and links to other pages, and that was about it,” continues Anders. “Since then there has been a lot of development that nobody could have foreseen and now websites are interactive and have multimedia content that is pulled from all over. The web is a different place now and people do a lot of things in their browser now that they did elsewhere before, like e-mail, setting up meetings, working on presentations and banking. If the browser crashes or freezes it can be very frustrating.”
Chrome therefore takes a new approach to JavaScript and memory management, allowing each tab within the browser to run as its own process. If one tab crashed it would not bring down the whole browser – just that tab.
Chrome has also been optimised for online applications. And it is no surprise that Google Apps and Gmail work better on Chrome than any other platform.
Chrome is also open source, allowing other browser developers and the community at large to build on it. What Google is doing through this is improving the way everyone experiences the web – not just Chrome users. And this, of course, makes a whole lot of sense for a company whose business is focused on the Internet.
Google also has the Chrome Bot that crawls the ‘net and tests a website for use with Chrome, boosting the browser’s compatibility. Presumably, the benefits of this will pour through into other browsers making use of the open source bits of Chrome.
The meta operating system
If you are doing your work, banking, e-mail and just about everything else using web applications the question is where this leaves operating systems and conventional applications. It seems all you really need these days is a browser.
Google will not be lured into commenting about the competitive landscape in this regard. It also will not make any promises in terms of a mobile version of the browser.
“Google Chrome is in beta and is being designed primarily for the desktop,” says Anders. “Right now the goal is to make it as good as possible for that platform and to get it as stable as possible before launch.”
Conflict of interests
Chrome is extensible via plugins in much the same way that Firefox is. It seems obvious that one of the first extensions we will see will be an ad-blocker. Already, one can block ads in Chrome using proxy services. This interferes with Google’s primary business of selling advertising. Other vendors would have curbed such functionality but Google insists that Chrome remains a truly open source offering and, as such, completely open to extension. Perhaps Google really is not evil?
Opinion
Google Chrome changes the way browsers address memory management and is optimised for web applications. To call it game changing is a tad premature. What is changing the game is the web applications themselves and people’s propensity to work within the browser. Google Gears allows this to happen in offline environments too, and is built into Chrome.
As an open source application Chrome is helping the web get better. But let us not get ahead of ourselves in terms of thinking that operating systems as we know them are on their way out. Yet.


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