Google to Enter the Browser Wars With “Chrome”
by Anthony - posted 2:56 pm, September 1, 2008
It looks like another potential game-changer on the Internet as we know it, care of Google. In classic Google style they’ve found a way to ignore the traditional avenues and appear to be announcing this decision via… comic book! The comic book stars caricatures of several of Google’s engineers and programmers who tell the story of why new thinking in web browsing is justified, and just how they plan to accomplish it. Ironic yet is that the comic book was printed on old fashioned paper, and distributed by good old “snail mail” to journalists and bloggers.
The browser is to be titled Chrome and will be an open-source project. The main driving force behind it is to design a browser that actually reflects what we use the web for in modern times: applications. In the web’s early days, it was simply designed to be a large scale document repository, allowing any document to be linked to any other document. As it’s evolved, these mess of loosely tied documents have grown into full blown applications. Rather than just retrieving and using information, we use the web on a daily basis to perform interactive computing tasks. We check our e-mail, we network with friends, go shopping, get driving directions, share videos and photos. Google thinks we should have a web browser that puts applications first, rather than the current paradigm of hacking applications into the old document storage-and-retrieval framework the web works on today. Plans are to incorporate an entirely new scratch-built Java virtual machine which they’ve code named V8 to power much of this progress.
The full 38 page comic book was scanned and released under creative commons licensing by Google Blogoscoped. It was available on the web in full here, though at the time of this writing the site hosting the comic seems to have stopped responding (overloaded perhaps?)
It appears that Google will be focusing on keeping this browser lean, and providing high levels of performance. A browser targetted at application development could just herald in “Web 3.0” – just imagine the possibilities for Google’s own services, like GMail, Google Maps, Google Spreadsheets… not to mention all the other creative ideas that can be developed to run with it.
At any rate, this comes with huge implications. At a time when Firefox 3 is new on the scene and gaining market share daily, when Apple for the first time in its history has an actual contender in Safari, and while Microsoft is readying its Internet Explorer 8 browser, it’s going to get very interesting to see these choices battle it out. Google is going to have to tread lightly, as the browser wars have always been a hotbed for legal battles, and we’re talking about a company whose aim is to “index all the world’s information” looking to build the browser that will display that information. It seems they’ve taken the first correct strategic move in making this an open source project, but only time will tell if this is merely a ploy to strengthen their brand at the expense of the big player in Microsoft’s IE. If this is successful (and there’s little doubt it should be, given Google’s extensive financial and mental resources), there could be some interesting times ahead on the web.
A few interesting facts to ponder that make this even more complicated:
- Google just recently extended their license agreement with Mozilla (makers of Firefox) through 2011. Google is a major source of funding for Firefox, a browser they’ll now be in direct competition with.
- The rendering engine to be used in Chrome will be Webkit. This is the same engine used by Apple’s Safari and their iPhone, and is different from Gecko, the engine used by Firefox. (Internet Explorer of course, uses neither, opting for its own proprietary rendering engine.)
- Google is at its core, an advertising company. How will controlling the means by which users see the web play into their core revenue stream? With Microsoft making plays for more web advertising dollars, how are they going to take the news? Google’s motto may be “don’t be evil,” but are they aiming to improve user experience, or aiming to improve advertising delivery?
- Open source means the project will be free for the taking and modification by any programmer who so wishes. Anybody will be able to take a look under the hood and see how it works, modify it, and produce their own derivative work. Could Chrome end up being more of a technology showcase and collaboration project whose innovations simply end up re-absorbed into the major market share browsers?