There have long been rumors that Google was working on its own browser, but they were discounted by most. I didn’t really believe them myself, since Google has heavily backed Mozilla’s Firefox for a long time now I figured that was their presence in the browser market. Or that if they did produce a Google-branded browser, that it would pretty much be just Firefox with a new skin. In the same way AOL skinned Mozilla Suite, and then Firefox, for their last versions of the Netscape browser. And pushing the limit, maybe something new built around Mozilla’s Gecko rendering engine, like Camino for the Mac.
When I didn’t expect was a nearly all-new browser which takes a clean sheet approach to browser design and changes some of the fundamental elements that have been common to browsers for a while now. But then again, this is Google, I probably shouldn’t be surprised that that is exactly what they’ve done with Google Chrome. It has been outed on the Official Google Blog, and interestingly via a 38-page comic book Google commissioned. I have to say, the comic format really worked for me. It made it somewhat entertaining, yet all of the elements were clear and understandable. Of course, I’m a geek and I’ve been doing web development since 1991. The first browser I used was Cern’s command line browser. (I won’t go into old-man mode and say ‘and we liked it that way’ – because, frankly, it sucked. I’m much happier with today’s browsers, believe me.)
Word got out prematurely when hard copies of the comic were received by bloggers early, and it was scanned and posted to Google Blogoscoped, which also followed up with some more information. The official launch is planned for later today (September 2nd). I’m looking forward to checking it out, it sounds like an interesting project. (I’m amused, but not surprised, that it already has a Wikipedia page.)
Of course, it is entering a market full of competitors. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer still dominates the Windows market, and I have to admit IE8 looks to be shaping up to be a fairly decent browser so far, based on the beta releases. Safari has a strong hold on Mac users. Firefox is the number two browser overall, a popular choice on Windows and giving Safari a run on Mac. Opera is still chugging along, though it is really not a strong player on desktops overall. Opera seems to have found more success on embedded and mobile devices.
Interestingly, Google Chrome’s rendering engine is based on Apple’s Webkit. That’s the engine at the core of Safari on the Mac, Windows, and, of course, the iPhone/iPod Touch. (And it evolved from the KHTML engine from the KDE project’s Konqueror browser.) Webkit is also used as the core of the browser in Google’s Android mobile platform, as well as in the browser included on Nokia’s Symbian Series60 mobile devices. It has also been used in a number of other products.
Those seem to be three of the major goals of Google Chrome, better performance, better stability, and reduced memory leaks/bloat, along with a fourth goal, improved security. They’ve changed the way browser processes are handled, offering better sandboxing to protect the system from malicious web apps. Google’s anti-phishing and anti-malware filters are also built into Chrome. (These are also offered in Firefox.) Google Gears is also included with Chrome, which will help performance with websites and web applications that use the Gears API. (For example, WordPress supports Gears on the admin interface to improve performance.)
And the best part is that Google is releasing Chome as open source. So all of the work they’ve done, and will do, is available to other developers and vendors to borrow and learn from. It sounds like they’ve done some very interesting things, so there are probably a few things others could learn from this.
Getting users to adopt Chrome is going to be the hard part. Firefox has been out for years and still has a small minority of the market. IE is still hovering around 70% of browser traffic in the Internet. People tend to use what is in front of them, for better or for worse. And with the current IE, that’s for worse. While IE7 is light years ahead of IE6, that’s not saying much as IE6 was utter crap. IE8 does look like it will help, but until it is out of beta most users won’t run it. Even once it is out of beta, unless MS pushes it as an automatic update, most users never upgrade.
For me I’ll have to see how Chrome performs, what the new UI is like, and what features it offers. I’ve never been a fan of Opera because I couldn’t stand the UI choices they made. It just didn’t suit me. I’ve played with Safari, and it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t that appealing. Certainly not enough to sway me from Firefox. I like the Firefox UI, I’m sure in large part because it has evolved steadily from the old Netscape UI. I started using Netscape when it was still around .9, up through 4.79. Then I switched to Mozilla Suite. And finally to Firefox after it hit 1.0. But also because of the extensions that allow me to customize it to my tastes and needs, as I recently covered.
As intrigued as I am by the new design direction Google has taken, it will come down to usability and functionality. I think Google probably has better odds of winning me over than any other player to date, especially if they can deliver on the performance and security. It will be interesting to see if they offer any synchronization between Google Chrome and the browser on Android. Being able to transparently store my browser preferences, bookmarks, etc, ‘in the cloud’ and access them from any Google browser would be a big appeal for me.
You know, with all of Google’s web-based applications (Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Reader, etc), they’re really close to being able to release a Google PC. From what I’ve seen Android could make a decent OS for a ‘netbook’ style computer, and Chrome could provide the main application environment.