Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Google Chrome

Google just made one of its biggest announcements in some time. The big news is a Google web browser, dubbed Google Chrome. 

As a web browser, Chrome is similar to Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, and Safari. That said, Chrome is actually more than a web browser; some have compared it to a web-based operating system, or at the very least an operating container for web-based applications. I'll explain why in a few paragraphs.

First, let's examine Chrome as a web browser. The Chrome interface resembles that of Internet Explorer and other modern web browsers, complete with tabs for different web pages. Chrome is a bit sleeker than the other browsers, however, with no menu bar, search bar, status bar, or other extraneous bits and pieces. This makes the web page bigger in the window, which isn't a bad thing. In essence, it moves the business of the browser out of the way so that you can pay more attention to the web page itself.

Where Chrome really shines, however, becomes apparent when you use it to run a web-based application, such as Google Calendar or Google Docs. Select the right options, and your application appears in a window that resembles a traditional desktop application window rather than a browser; the tabs and the toolbars fade away so that all you see is the application itself. Even better, web-based applications run much faster in Chrome than they do in competing web browsers -- more than 50 times faster than with Internet Explorer, or at least that's what Google's engineers claim.

Chrome's speed is due partly to the stripped down interface, but more likely is a result of the modern JavaScript engine used to run the browser. Chrome's engine, dubbed "V8,"  is designed to improve the performance of complex applications -- just like the cloud computing applications that Google serves up to its millions of users.

Why is Google launching its own web browser? Isn't Microsoft Explorer (or Firefox or Safari or Opera) good enough? Apparently not -- at least when it comes to working from within the browser. The folks at Google, like many users, spend much of their computing time not working with traditional applications, but rather working inside the web browser. Whether it's reading email via Gmail, checking appointments in Google Calendar, or working on documents and presentations with Google Docs, there's a lot of work that gets done inside the browser. Unfortunately, today's major browsers are based on technology originally developed more than a dozen years ago -- and that technology was designed for the process of loading traditional HTML web pages, not for running dynamic web-based applications.

Thus Google's interest in developing a new type of web browser optimized for running cloud applications. As I stated previously, Chrome is more of a application container or web-based operating system than it is a browser. To this point, Chrome doesn't compete with Internet Explorer; it competes, instead, with Microsoft Windows itself. And that is something that Microsoft ought to be worried about.