Google Enters Browser Competition with Chrome

Google Chrome Logo

Google Chrome Logo

Internet behemoth Google took a major step towards their mission “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” with their recent beta release of the Chrome web browser. With typical Google focus on simplicity and functionality, Chrome shakes up the usual web browser display a little.

In choosing to release the browsers as open source software Google looks to want to tap into the same type of vast volunteer developer community that has made platforms such as FireFox and WordPress so immensely popular.

First Impressions

The first thing you might notice when using Chrome is that the browser tabs, first made popular with FireFox but now are fixtures all the major browsers, are at the very top of the browser instead beneath the tool bars.

A menu bar is conspicuously absent a la IE7. But perhaps more noticeable is the missing search box. I expected a search giant like Google to make a search box the prominent feature.

Instead they took a different tack and integrated the search function right into the address bar. Very slick, even if it will take a bit of getting used to.

Google Chrome Logo

Simon says, "Think of me when you see the Google Chrome logo."

Simon says: Think of me when you see the Google Chrome Logo.

My first thought when I saw the Google Chrome Logo was that it reminded me of the old Simon game I had when I was a kid. I don’t know if similarity is something intentional by the marketing and graphic design folks who developed the logo.

But I am not the only one who thinks they look a little similar. Of course how many combinations of Google’s primary colors can there be?

Technical Stuff

On the technical side Chrome is currently only available for Windows XP and Vista. Mac and Unix versions are in the works but Google isn’t hinting at how long they may be. As primarily a Mac user I had to go over to one of my older XP machines to even try Chrome.

I understand the logic behind releasing the Windows version first. But I won’t really use Chrome much at all until the Mac version is available.

Chrome uses Webkit rendering engine which was originally created by Apple engineers for their Safari browser. I’m not sure that means a whole lot one way or another for the average user beyond the fact that Webkit makes for standards compliant rendering which hopefully will mean that sites that look good in Safari will continue to look good when viewed with Chrome. Keep your fingers crossed on that one.

Chrome developers prioritized security. These days there are tons of ways the bad guys can do nefarious things via web browsers. The Google folks thought through a lot of this when developing Chrome. They’ve employed techniques including blacklisting known rogue sites, sandboxing, anti-phishing features and an “incognito” mode to help protect users. These should help Chrome stand up competitively to other browsers.

The technical area where Chrome really shines is in it’s javascript engine. Javascript is used to power many of the more interesting and user-friendly portions of the web. All sorts of things like navigation, widgets, animation, form presentation, localization and statistics tracking are increasingly being presented on web sites via javascript. Google sites such as Gmail and Google Reader use a lot of javascript. Even WordPress is starting to use javascript to make their dashboard interface more user friendly.

Google Chrome renders these scripts much faster than other browsers. I think that is the single biggest advantage it has right now, and it’s a big one.

Web “Applications”

In the marketing for Chrome Google makes a big deal out of the web moving from web sites to web “applications”.  I get that.

It seems to me that the trend is towards on line web based programs and away from programs based on individual local computers. Obviously this is a trend that Google is heavily invested in with services Gmail, Google Apps, Google Docs, and Google Reader they may be looking to compete with local operating systems like Windows and Apple’s OS X. 

With Chrome, Google has made it easy to place a shortcut on your desktop to a web site. Simply click on the “Control the current page” icon over on the left and select the “Create application shortcuts…” option. A screen will pop up with the options to add shortcuts to the desktop, start menu and quick launch bar.

When Chrome opens one of those shortcuts it will open the site in sort of an “application mode.” Chrome strips out the tabs, address bar, and bookmarks bar and presents the web site in a clean presentation as though it were a program operating on your computer.

It’s a different way to look at web sites. And I think it is shades of things to come from Google.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is I think Google has entered the web browser business with plans to stay long term. Their first beta release shows promise.

I think Chrome is a shot across the bow of the big operating system companies like Microsoft & Apple. Google seems to be looking to refocus the marketplace in the direction of a web based “operating system” in which the individual computer with it’s web browser is simply the access point.

Sure it’s got a long way to go yet. And maybe I’m way off base.

Either way until the Mac version hits the streets Google Chrome won’t be something I’ll use much.

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