Modern Software Experience

2008-09-09

Google Chrome

important

The introduction of Chrome, Google’s browser for the desktop, is an important event. Google Chrome does not exactly impress, but this is only version 0.2. Chrome version 1.0 will surely be better, and the shape of things to come looks promising.

The "Download Chrome (BETA)" link on the Google home page will help it build significant user base quickly. Chrome is important because Google is a big company. It is important because it is another way in which Google competes with Microsoft. It is important because Google thought it important enough to actually do it.

Google is not starting a browser war, but a technology crusade.

browser war

Google is not igniting a new browser war.

Google wants Chrome to be successful, but for Google, Chrome success is not about Chrome market share. but does not really care what browser you use. Chrome is Open Source and is okay with other vendors taking from it. Google invites browser vendors to take whatever they like about Chrome.

Google does not care what browser you use, it just is not to happy with current browsers at all. Current browsers do not provide the fast, stable, reliable platform that Google needs to push its web applications. Google wants you to use its web applications - to serve AdWords along the side.

The Google Chrome browser is not aimed at browser users, but at browser developers.

technology crusade

Google is not starting a browser war, but a technology crusade. Google really does not care what browser you use. Google does not want to push a browser, it wants to push the technology inside it. Google is pushing for faster JavaScript engines and adoption of Google gears.

The Google Chrome browser is not aimed at browser users, but at browser developers. Google’s immediate goal is to accelerate the development of web browsers to better support its web applications, by pushing the technology these web apps need. Google has the technology, and is not afraid to use a browser. 

Google Goals

today’s web

The Google Chrome comic book describes Google Chrome’s goal as a browser for today’s web. Google thinks that browsers should be stabler, faster, and more secure, and offer all that in a clean, simple and efficient user interface. That sure sounds like a lofty goal.

…a much more logical explanation for the name; it is the web that matters, the browser is merely some chrome around the web.

name

The Chrome name reveals how Google thinks of web browsers. Developers often refer to user interface elements as "chrome". Google’s comic book confirms this origin of the name, but I doubt that it is entirely honest about its meaning.

Google tries to paint the name as ironic; they call it chrome while Chrome has less chrome than other browsers. That draws attention away from a much more logical explanation for the name; it is the web that matters, the browser is merely some chrome around the web.

another browser

no surprise

The introduction of the Google browser is not the big surprise some media are making it out to be.
The idea and the rumour have been floating around for years. Google already introduced Google Gears, a browser extension that allows web applications to run off-line, access local database, obtain geolocation information, and integrate with the desktop.

Google Browser

The introduction of Google Chrome is not even the introduction of the Google Browser. Google introduced the first Google browser last year already.

The Google Android platform for mobile phones that Google introduced on 2007 Nov 5 includes a browser, which we can now think of as Chrome Mobile. Well, almost. The Android browser and Chrome are separate browser projects, but they do use the same browser and JavaScript engines.

another browser

Does the world need another browser? There are several good web browsers already (Opera, Firefox, Safari), and they are all free, open source and multi-platform products too Still, a new browser from a major company is something to take seriously. It does change the browser landscape.

adoption

The initial version of Chrome is rather unimpressive demoware, that lacks compelling features. It is hardly a challenger, but it is the cool new thing and many people have come to trust Google. That, the media buzz, and the download link on their home page are going to drive adoption for now.

There may also a drop after the initial excitement, but the Chrome team continues to work on the product, and will be sure to evolve it into a product to be taken seriously.

Early numbers show that the initial adoption rate to be nothing short of amazing. Depending on whose numbers you choose to believe, Chrome took one or two percent of the market in just one or two days. Its seems to have exceeded Opera, its main inspiration, in popularity already.

It is somewhat embarrassing that Google’s own Google Analytics failed to track Chrome first few days of usage, but other web stats services were eager to release early numbers.

Google Gears

JavaScript

Google says their browser is more secure, but if Google really cared about security, they would offer a browser without JavaScript, or at least turn it off by default, and integrate script blocking functionality similar to Firefox’ NoScript extension.

Google knows that JavaScript as it is a dangerous browser misfeature, but Google only cares so much about the security of our browser, and apparently cares a lot more about the performance of its web still JavaScript-dependent applications. Google wants its web applications to perform better than they do today.

performance

Google is not fixing its applications. Instead of admitting that they should not be so reliant on JavaScript in the first place, Google is trying to shift the blame for poor performance of their applications to our browsers, and suggests that we should be using their browser or at least their JavaScript engine instead.

Chrome may be better at running JavaScript applications that any other browser, but just when is JavaScript performance important? Even JavaScript sites that use it a lot perform fine on a modern browser and a fast PC, and most browser vendors were already working on faster JavaScript engines anyway. Still, it is only a matter of time before one of the major browser vendors releases their browser with JavaScript turned off by default, and Google knows that.

Google’s overt focus on JavaScript performance seems designed to draw attention away from the real star of the Chrome show. It is Google Gears that really matters to Google.

Google shifting Gears

It is no surprise either that Chrome has Google Gears built-in, but it is by far its most important feature. It is hard to miss how Google goes on about Gears turning the browser into a better platform for web applications. Combined with Google’s please steal this browser attitude, the message is clear: other browsers should ship with Google Gears too.

If web applications perform better in Chrome because it includes Google Gears, users will switch to Google Chrome. That puts pressure on other browser vendors to include it too. Chrome is a way to strong-arm Google Gears into every browser.

Google does not want to make desktop applications. Google wants users to replace their desktop applications with Google’s web applications. That is why Google wants all browsers to ship with Google Gears.

promotion vehicle

In fact, the thought that the entire Google Chrome browser project was started as a vehicle to promote Google Gears is not an unreasonable one. Google does not want to make desktop applications, it wants to make web applications, and that implies that it depends on browsers as its platform.

reference design

Right now, Google chrome is far from finished, yet Google released it anyway. One reason for that is that the current Chrome may hardly be a product yet, but already is reference design; This is how Google likes browsers to be.

Google wants browsers to be stabler, and if all browsers used something like an one-process-per-site multi-process design with all processes running at least-privilege, these browsers would be stabler environment for Google to run its Google applications in.

cheap move

Chrome is a cheap move. Literally.
Behind all the talk about technology are monetary incentives. The most obvious one is making Google’s AdSense-carrying web applications more attractive, but that is not the only one.

default search engine

Google’s deal with Mozilla has worked out nicely for Mozilla, but even better for Google. As Firefox market share grows, Google gets more search traffic. Simply put: Google paid millions, but make billions. Mozilla should perhaps be demanding a bigger share of the action, and could do so by auctioning off its default search engine to the highest bidder. Whether Mozilla and Google they are good friends or suspicious partners, these market realities are out there regardless. Another market reality is the growing popularity of Safari, a browser Google has no control over whatsoever

Accelerating browser development will accelerate the move away from Internet Explorer and its Microsoft-centric defaults to real web browsers such as Firefox. Google won’t shed any tears over that, that but adding their own browser into the mix is the cheapest way to ensure that the default search engine is Google.

Internet Explorer

pressure on Microsoft

The release of Google Chrome does increase the pressure on Microsoft Internet Explorer.
Users are already abandoning Internet Explorer in favour of Opera, Firefox and Safari. Now they will also be abandoning it in favour of Google Chrome. That reduces Internet Explorer’s stranglehold on the web.

privacy features

For Google, it is all about the revenue-generating adds. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2 may invite ridicule for still not supporting XHTML, but Google may be more worried about Internet Explorer’s new privacy features - what if these interfere with Google Analytics and AdWords?
Google does not want you to block JavaScript in general, Google Analytics in particular or delete its cookies, while That’s exactly what privacy-conscious users want to do.

switch to web browsers

Web developers are sick of Internet Explorer and its poor to non-existent support for web standards already. Supporting Internet Explorer in addition to real web browsers takes an inordinate amount of time. As Internet Explorer’s market share continues to dwindle, more and more web businesses will decide to stop wasting money on supporting Internet Explorer, and simply ask their users to upgrade to a real web browser instead.

Good Thing

Getting people to use real web browsers that support all major web standards is a Good Thing. It does not matter whether that happens by people switching away from IE to a browser, or Microsoft finally upgrading Internet Explorer to a real browser. What matters is the use of real browsers.

web browsers

Firefox

Google has been and still is backing the Mozilla Firefox project. The growing popularity of Firefox has helped to spread the realisation that Internet Explorer is hardly a browser, and how much better a real web browser is, but Google’s support for Firefox isn’t purely ideological.

Google prefers web standards over any company’s proprietary approach for practical reasons, and it is supports Firefox as part of its ongoing battle for search engine market share.

Safari for Windows

There is little doubt that Google hopes to see Chrome eat into Internet Explorer’s market share, but its first victim is likely to be Safari for Windows. Google Chrome and Apple Safari are both based on WebKit, but Apple’s sloppy programming has earned Safari a reputation for being unsafe, and Chrome includes the anti-phishing feature that Safari lacks.

Still, Apple Safari does benefit from Google Chrome and Google’s Android browser using WebKit. The more browsers use that same engine, the more defects are likely to be found and fixed sooner. The result will be a better WebKit, and thus a better a Safari.

Firefox

This initial release of Google Chrome is hardly a threat to Firefox. Firefox users will try Chrome, but many will switch back because of Firefox’s more mature feature set and its many add-ons. Flock users are going to switch back to Flock even faster.

Google is not trying to push Firefox out of the market. Google is trying to push Google Gears into Firefox. The Gears plug-in is for Firefox available for download already. The release of Chrome will creates more awareness, and make the Gears plug-in more popular.

Gears

push

Chrome pushes Google Gears in a big way. It does not just rekindle developer interest in a largely ignored product, it also moves Gears into the user vocabulary. It repositions the developer library as a browser feature that users should care about.

Google OS

The suggestion that Chrome is Google OS 1.0 overblown, and not just because Chrome needs Windows to run but because, well, it is still just a browser. Google Gears offers application services just like an operating system does, but a few services do not an operating system make. Gears may be the beginning of an operating system, but if so, the actual OS seems years away.

Other browser vendors are not eager to jump on the Google Gears bandwagon. Google Gears competes with HTML 5 features, and Google Chrome even removed a HTML 5 features out of WebKit to replace it with Google Gears.
Google will have to adapt Gears to work with the up and coming web standard for others browser vendors to believe that Google just wants certain browser functionality, and it is not out to create a Google OS.

updates

update 2008-09-16 Gears for Safari

Google has released Gears for Safari on OS X.

links

Gears

script blocking

Google Chrome marketshare

announcements

early reports

current stats