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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Google’s Chrome browser is an attack on Microsoft

Google Chrome Browser Google Chrome, the company’s entry into the browser market, will leave their competitors, particularly Microsoft, anxious. If Mozilla can achieve almost a 20 per cent share of the browser market with Firefox, what can Google, with its enormous online presence, reach? Microsoft, which has a 75 per cent share of the market, has never faced a challenge like this.

Google Chrome Browser

Google used a cartoon to explain Chrome

The first test version of the Google browser, called Chrome, is expected to be released later today. It will be PC-only for the time being, another suggestion that Microsoft is in Google’s sights.

But providers of web applications and sites might be worried too. If email, RSS reading, news and Google’s other services are embedded in the browser where does that leave, say, Bloglines or Hotmail? The inclination to use the services that come with the browser will be great.

Still, regardless of Google’s ability to get Chrome in front of people, uptake will depend on features and performance. A multiprocess design, which will allow each tab within the browser to be run, in effect, in isolation, will improve stability. So if a website crashes it will close but your browser won’t. If your browser is running slowly you’ll be able to see which tab is causing the problem.

Speed is likely to be boosted by the Javascript Virtual Machine, called V8, which is included in the browser. Since many websites and applications use JavaScript quite extensively, users will probably notice an improvement.

Feature-wise, Chrome sounds good but doesn’t include anything that isn’t available elsewhere. The “Omnibox” intelligent address bar adds search results to Firefox 3’s ‘awesome bar’, making it a little more awesome. The ‘speed dial’ homepage, which displays your most-viewed sites, is a nice touch but hardly essential and, in any case, it’s also available in Opera.

As with Firefox 3, security is a key focus of Chrome, which will constantly download security updates and monitor for phishing sites and malware. There’s also a privacy mode, which seems to be the fashionable browser add-on these days, which Google says will be useful for secret gift-shopping, though the feature is more commonly known as a “porn mode”.

Google Chrome Browser

Google Chrome Browser

The killer feature is Chrome’s integration with Google Gears, which allows you to take applications offline. Add that to the ability to have web applications operate in a separate window, without the address bar and toolbars, and suddenly Chrome starts to look more like an operating system than a browser. That’s another shot in the direction of Microsoft.

Furthermore, the decision to make Chrome open source leaves Microsoft’s Internet Explorer as the only major browser built on proprietary technology. However, being the odd one out isn’t the problem: Chrome is built, in part, on code from Mozilla Firefox and from Apple’s Webkit. That means Chrome could indirectly improve Firefox and Safari, leaving Microsoft even further behind.

One big question for me is the design. Google are, frankly, terrible at it. Google Mail, Calendar, Reader and Docs all look awful, despite their great functionality. Firefox have finally got their design right with Firefox 3, essentially by mimicking the operating system you use, but can Google better that? Their idea of moving tabs above the address bar is a nice touch but it will take more than that to convince me.

Finally, it’s worth asking whether Google will allow ad-blocking plugins, popular on Firefox. They are after all an ad company.

We’ll know more when Chrome arrives but one thing’s for sure, Google is about to shake the internet up yet again.

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