Google's Chrome: Browser destined for domination? (Feature)
By Jay Dougherty Sep 13, 2008, 2:08 GMT
Washington - The problem: The things people want to do on the Internet are growing by leaps and bounds, but Internet browsers have advanced at a snail's pace.
The solution, at least according to Google, is Google Chrome, a new browser from the Internet search giant that promises to shake up the Web browser market almost overnight.
Why would Google want to enter the browser market? The official line at Google is that today's major Web browsers were created at a time when their primary purpose was to display static pages of information.
Today, says the company, people want to do everything on the Internet - from play games to watch movies to balance their budgets. And the major Web browsers, the company says, just haven't kept pace.
'For how much the Web has evolved, browsers haven't evolved that much,' says Sundar Pichai, Google's vice-president of product management. 'What we're trying to do with Chrome is make sure the browsers are really evolving with the Web,' he adds.
This seemingly altruistic line is being repeated in various ways by multiple Google developers around the Web and in promotional videos. The browser's unspoken mission, however, is probably a tad more self- interested.
Google no doubt wants greater control over the browser platform, since the Web browser today is quickly becoming the operating system of tomorrow. The company that controls it will have the same kind of inside edge on application development and standards that Microsoft has had with its ubiquitous Windows platform.
And Google, of course, has been hard at work creating what it hopes will be tomorrow's killer applications: a completely Web-based word processor, spreadsheet, presentation package, and more. The suite commonly known as Google Docs (http://docs.google.com) is one of many examples.
Today, these applications pose little threat to Microsoft's dominance in the highly lucrative office suite arena. But in an increasingly Web-centric world, which Google already dominates with its search technologies, Web-based applications that mimic our dominant desktop applications will no doubt gain traction - and one day may ultimately be all that most users and corporations need. What better way to ensure that one has a tight control over how Web-based applications develop than to control the browser for which they're written?
Unlike today's major browsers, Chrome is open-source software, meaning that developers the world over will have access to critical elements of its operation. But that fact does not lessen Google's powerful role in shaping Chrome's strategic direction should the platform take off.
Speculation aside, the first iteration of Google Chrome can hardly be seen as dominant, although with Google's current muscle in the area of Web-based software development, one can rightly expect Chrome to compete in the browser big leagues with startling rapidity.
What we have now, however, is clearly a fledgling product. But Chrome's features are at once both familiar and novel enough to attract attention and gain users. Although the product is not even at version 1.0 - the current 'build' number is 1583 - already Chrome is stable, and most users will find the browser's original approach to Web display, navigation, and presentation to be compelling enough to warrant a close look. Here are some highlights of the new browser.
As you might expect with a browser from Google, Chrome's interface is the cleanest, most clutter-free of any browser on the market. Google's browser leaves more room for the display of Web pages and Web applications than any other. There's no menu visible, no toolbars; there isn't even a status bar at the bottom of the browser. Expand the browser, and you could easily imagine that the Web itself is your operating system. That, of course, is by design.
Searching itself is accomplished in what in most browsers is the Address bar, toward the very top of the browser window. Open the browser, and your cursor is within the Search field by default. As you surf the Internet, the browser 'learns' which Web sites you frequent the most. On subsequent openings of the browser, or when you return to the browser's main screen (Alt-Home on the keyboard), you'll see thumbnails of your most frequently visited sites. Web sites themselves thus become the equivalent of desktop icons in Microsoft Windows.
Chrome loads faster than any browser on the market. While this may change as Google adds features to the browser, fast load times have clearly always been important to the company and are to users as well, so it's likely to remain a priority. The loading of individual pages seems snappy as well, at least as fast as Internet Explorer and Firefox, although graphics sometimes load more slowly in Chrome than =in the other two major browsers.
Page scrolling is choppier than it is with the 'smooth scrolling' technologies implemented in Internet Explorer and Firefox. This, too, may improve with future releases, but currently there's no smooth scrolling option in the Options panel of Chrome.
--- Customisation and features
Currently, Chrome is the least customisable of browsers, and this fact alone - along with the features the browser does not have - will no doubt persuade many to stick with what they're now using to surf the Internet. A handful of basic options - such as where to store downloaded files and which search engine to use by default - are available from an Options panel.
There's no built-in RSS reader or bookmark manager. Bookmarks themselves are handled more clumsily than with other browsers. There are no add-ons currently available for the browser, as there are with Firefox. A lot of this will probably improve, but right now the browser shows clear signs of being an early-stage product relative to the maturity in features of the other major browsers.
Chrome comes with an 'incognito' mode that will catch the attention of many. Privacy is high on the list of many Web surfers today. In short, folks sometimes want to be able to surf the Internet without others being able to see where they've gone afterwards.
While the import of this will raise eyebrows, it's clear that there's enough demand out there for browser makers to listen. Microsoft, too, is rumoured to be working on an incognito mode for the next iteration of Internet Explorer. Incognito mode is not the same as cloaking, in which the user's IP address is hidden.
All in all, Chrome is ambitious and groundbreaking, as you might expect from Google. But in its current incarnation, it's unlikely to become the primary browser on the computers of many. Still, it's worth having a copy on your machine. We might, after all, be witnessing not just the launch of a new browser but a war over who will own the next operating system that matters. It's always a good idea to take the time to get used to an interface that one day we all may need to learn.
Download Google Chrome at http://www.google.com/chrome.