Google Chrome could be big

So Google dropped the bomb yesterday that they were going to be launching their own open source browser today. They also had Scott McCloud draw a comic to help them explain it, which initially annoyed the crap out of me, but as I went through reading, found strangely compelling. I ran through a gamut of reactions to this, how stupid it was, how cool it was, how much Google annoyed me, etc…

However, what I settled on was that Google, more than any other browser making company, was a consumer of browser features – their web applications are at the forefront of javascript development and so they have a very unique, large and smart group of folks with some of the most expertise on where the pain points are in a browser. Beyond that, as a company, they have a vested interest in seeing as much of the web look and work as quickly and well as possible – which is distinct from the more abstract desire of Microsoft, Mozilla and Apple to have their browser work well simply as a competitive advantage against other browsers.

Google finally takes a stand

They spent pages of the comic talking about their new javascript VM. At a time when everyone is working on their new javascript engine (see Safari’s SquirrelFish and Mozilla’s latest as well as Tamarin, poor IE8), it’s a bold claim to suggest that theirs is going to be the best. But that’s exactly what I find so interesting about Chrome – Google seems to be taking a stand. Unlike any project of theirs in the moderate past, they’re talking big words about this and delivering a product today. Which is great.

Google’s latest actions also speak to their ambition, Android and Chrome are interesting, because to some degree you (or at least I) wouldn’t have thought them at all necessary. Google doesn’t need it’s own phone OS, they just need to get apps onto Symbian, iPhone and WinMob. That’s a way huger userbase than Android will have and they can sell ads on their apps all day, same as they will on Android. Same with Chrome, with both Firefox and Safari (well sort of) open, they could have wedged themselves in there. However, they think they can do it better (great!) but also they want to control everything, they don’t want to have to rely on Mozilla needing their money to get those ad deals.

I’m sure time constraints were a big issue, but it’s surprising, given all this, that Chrome wasn’t built for Android first. Looking at the benefit that Safari has received (and will continue to receive) from being moved onto the iPhone and given the splash that Android hopes to make (and since they were building a new browser anyway and mobile one’s more than desktops would do well with the memory efficiency that Google is building into Chrome) it’d seem like a good fit. I don’t doubt that this will come, but still, it’d have been a good match. I’m curious to know how long Chrome has been under real development.

Technically Speaking

There’s a lot of interesting tech and UI work that they’re putting in. I’m super excited for the distinct processes for tabs, to me that’s a huge problem I’ve been having with Safari and Firefox. There’s some frame in the comic that has a man screaming at the sluggishness of his browser, yeah, that’s totally me. It’s cool (and slightly creepy) that they’re using their knowledge of most clicked links to test the rendering of key pages across the web, again something they get from being a web consumer before they were a browser developer.

It’s not important that it will run only on Windows when it comes out, any success will have those coming out tout de suite. It’s not even really important how well it works out of the gate, I believe that Google believes that this is something of core importance and will spend the resources necessary to keep pushing this. I’m skeptical that a new non-os affiliated browser will be able to get much market penetration – if its javascript departs radically in performance (if not standards adherence) from other browsers, will developers work in it? Or if it’s new user experience is so diff’t from a traditional one, will it be worth optimizing for Chrome? Will users who could care less about javascript guts, take the time to download it? Also, Chrome’s a dumb name.

Nevertheless, for the first time in awhile, I’m excited to see Google enter a market. It looks like a strong debut and hopefully they’ll follow through on this and build a genuinely good and different browser. It’s foolish for John Lilly (of Mozilla) to say he isn’t worried about Chrome. His whole comment about how Mozilla is the only one who just cares about the web smacks of that Colligan quote about how “the PC guys weren’t just going to walk in” to his core business.

I think this is going to be a long slow road, hopefully Google means to walk it. More than any recent launch I believe they are. It’s got its skeptics and its lovers. Even if as a browser it never achieves significant market share, I hope its impact as a competitor and a free codebase will push and aid the theory and practice of browser development for the 3 bigs. What do you think? More hype? Or something deeper? Are you starting to worry that Google’s ambitions are a bit much and them controlling the browser scares the privacy beejeezus out of you?

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