Google Chrome why?

The Internet is all a buzz with Google’s open source web browser Chrome. But you have to ask why and even if it’s a big deal. Not why there’s all the interest but why Google bothered to build their own browser? After all they could have worked with Mozilla to add these features to Firefox – instead Google went and built their own browser.

Introducing Google Chrome
Introducing Google Chrome

So clearly I don’t know, but I wonder whether Google just got a bit fed up of waiting for the features they wanted and went ahead and built their own browser, while leaving the door open to merge these features back into Firefox at a later date. Google are a big supporter of Firefox and the idea of a Google browser has been associated with Firefox in the past; and Sergey Brin has said he is keen to see Firefox and Chrome become more unified in the future.

It is probably worth noting that they (Mozilla Corp) are across the street and they come over here for lunch,” Brin said of Mozzilla employees visits to cafeterias at the Googleplex headquarters. “I hope we will have more and more unity over time”.

But what features are important to Google? After all, as Jon Hicks points out, from an interface point of view, Chrome brings nothing new – all the features are already available in existing browsers. But I don’t think that’s the point and I don’t think that’s why it’s important. Google want to offer much richer and, more importantly, faster web applications.

The current browsers, including Firefox, just can’t cut it. JavaScript isn’t fast enough (thereby limiting the UX), browsers are single threaded and they aren’t stable enough. If Google want to challenge Microsoft (or anyone else for that matter) in the desktop space they needed a better platform. Of course others have sought to solve the same problem – notably Adobe with Air and Microsoft with Silverlight. Google’s solution is I think much neater – build an open source browser that supports multithreading, fast JavaScript execution and stuff Google Gears into the back end so it works offline. Joel Spolsky suggested something similar a while back:

So if history repeats itself, we can expect some standardization of Ajax user interfaces to happen in the same way we got Microsoft Windows. Somebody is going to write a compelling SDK that you can use to make powerful Ajax applications with common user interface elements that work together. And whichever SDK wins the most developer mindshare will have the same kind of competitive stronghold as Microsoft had with their Windows API

Imagine, for example, that you’re Google with GMail, and you’re feeling rather smug. But then somebody you’ve never heard of, some bratty Y Combinator startup, maybe, is gaining ridiculous traction selling NewSDK, which combines a great portable programming language that compiles to JavaScript, and even better, a huge Ajaxy library that includes all kinds of clever interop features. Not just cut ‘n’ paste: cool mashup features like synchronization and single-point identity management (so you don’t have to tell Facebook and Twitter what you’re doing, you can just enter it in one place). And you laugh at them, for their NewSDK is a honking 232 megabytes … 232 megabytes! … of JavaScript, and it takes 76 seconds to load a page. And your app, GMail, doesn’t lose any customers.

But then, while you’re sitting on your googlechair in the googleplex sipping googleccinos and feeling smuggy smug smug smug, new versions of the browsers come out that support cached, compiled JavaScript. And suddenly NewSDK is really fast. And Paul Graham gives them another 6000 boxes of instant noodles to eat, so they stay in business another three years perfecting things.

Of course the big difference is that it’s Google that have gone and launched the new browser that supports cached, compiled JavaScript.

With the release of Chrome, Google can now release versions of their apps that are richer and more responsive. Chrome then isn’t targeted at Firefox I think that Chrome is more of a threat to Silverlight and Air. After all if you can write a web app in JavaScript that’s just as rich and responsive as anything you can write in Silver-Air why would you bother with the proprietary approach?

Chrome is in effect a way to deliver a Google OS to your desktop, one that lets you run fast JavaScript applications. And if you believe Sergey Brin Firefox will, in time, adopt the same technologies as Chrome; which is of course just what Google want – maximum market penetration of those browsers that support their new rich web apps.

14 thoughts on “Google Chrome why?

  1. I wonder whether Google just got a bit fed up of waiting for the features they wanted and went ahead and built their own browser, while leaving the door open to merge these features back into Firefox at a later date.

    The issue with that, of course, is that Chrome is Webkit based, while Mozilla is Gecko based.

    As an Apple chap, you’ve not used it, I guess. I’m using it right now – Chrome is very fast indeed, and being able to treat webapps as if they’re a normal executable is quite ground-breaking.

  2. @James that’s true Chrome and Firefox do use different engines to render the page but I assume that there is a clean separation of duties between the rendering engine and V8 JavaScript compiler.

    So Google might have gone with Webkit because it’s easy to work with (and they have experience in house) but that won’t stop V8 being ported to Firefox in the future.

    I suspect the real speed improvements are due to V8 and the multithreading.

  3. “…Of course the big difference is that it’s Google that have gone and launched…

    Shouldn’t it be:

    …Google that HAS gone and launched..?

    Are you a Brit? I see this all the time in the UK?

    Picky, picky, picky, but it is really weird…

  4. @lichanos – yes I’m British. Not sure if it should be ‘has’ or ‘have’ to be honest, doesn’t it depend on whether you treat Google as singular or plural?

    I suppose I don’t think of the organisation as doing the work rather the software engineers at Google. So “…it’s the Google [software engineers] that have gone and launched…” But maybe that says more about where I believe the credit lies!

  5. @lichanos – Same with football teams. We treat them as a collection of individuals and say ‘(Manchester City | They) have lost’.
    Yanks treat them as a single entity and say ‘(Manchester United | It) has won’. I choose my examples with care but don’t know which is preferred by people from Abu Dhabi…
    I have no opinion on chrome or google’s desire to do no evil

  6. I’m glad to read you realized the most important thing about Chrome is thgat it’s probably the first step towards the Google OS that will try to turn our big Windows-based PCs into slim Linux/Chrome-based clients in the not-so-far future.

    All I read is people focusing on the UI or the strictly technical aspects of single-tab processes and V8 or how Chrome renders (try Safari—it’s the same!), and it’s quite refreshing to see other people going for the wider view.

    Congrats on the blog as a whole, as well, I’m an avid reader.

    And just a humble suggestion: it would be nice of you to increase the vertical space between comments in your CSS: they’re all getting mixed together the way it is right now.

  7. @Tom

    Sure it is! Sorry for taking this long… I haven’t found a good mechanism to check back on articles where I’ve left any comments.

    But do keep reading every new article you post. : )

  8. Follow the money and you get to the core.
    How does Google earn its money again? Oh right, advertising.
    In what kind of program do users get these ads shoveled right in their face?
    A browser. Preferably one that has Google search as default search engine and makes it especially hard to add extensions like the famous AdBlock Plus…

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