Google Chrome: the first true Web 2.0 browser

Computerworld takes an in-depth look at Google's new browser.

Google's Chrome Web browser

Google's Chrome Web browser

Google's just-released Chrome takes the same approach to browser design that Google takes to its home page -- stripped-down, fast and functional, with very few bells and whistles.

That's both the good news and the bad news about this browser. Those who like a no-frills approach to their Web experience, and who want the content of Web sites front and center, will welcome it. But those who want a more fully-featured interface with extras will prefer either Internet Explorer or Firefox.

That being said, keep in mind that this is a first beta, and Google may well introduce new features in future versions. For example, this beta does not have a true bookmarks manager, but it would be quite surprising if one didn't show up in future betas.

In fact, there's a very long list of features this browser doesn't have. There's no built-in RSS reader, as there is in Internet Explorer, or that's available as an add-on for Firefox. You won't find a good bookmarks manager, such as you'll find in both Internet Explorer and Firefox. There are no add-ons as you'll find in Firefox. Be warned -- the list of what's not there can go on for quite some time.

That was all by design, though, and it's why Google calls this browser Chrome. The frame of a browser is called its chrome, and Google set out to reduce the browser to just the "chrome." In a comic book that gives technical background about the browser, Google explains its design philosophy this way: "We don't want to interrupt anything the user is trying to do. If you can just ignore the browser, we've done a good job."

If that was the goal, Google has succeeded. Chrome has so little interface, the content area of the browser is larger than with other browsers -- it almost feels like full-screen mode. Nothing gets in the way of the content of the browser window itself. In the same way that Google puts search front and center on its home page, this browser puts content first.

Designed for consumers or enterprises?

A great deal of what makes Chrome different from other browsers is not what you see, but what you don't see. Chrome appears to be designed in great part to run AJAX and Web 2.0 applications. It's the only browser that has been built from the ground up for a world in which the browser is a front end to Web-based applications and services like those that Google provides, and like those that are used increasingly by businesses.

To that end, Google has made dramatic changes under the hood. Google has chosen the open-source WebKit as its rendering engine, and it built its own JavaScript virtual machine called V8 for running JavaScript faster, with more stability, and more securely. Each tab in Chrome runs as its own separate process, so if one tab is busy or bogged down, it won't affect the performance in other tabs. Google claims that designing a browser this way will also cut down on memory bloat.

Also important is that Chrome comes equipped with Google Gears, which is a kind of glue that ties together Web-based applications and your own hard disk.

The effect of all this should be -- says Google -- a browser able to run Web-based applications with the same speed, interactivity, and stability as client-based applications. This means that Chrome may be aimed as much or more at Microsoft Office than it is at Internet Explorer. By providing a superior platform for running its Web-based applications, Google is giving itself a chance to supplant Office with Google Docs.

Seen in that way, the ultimate success of Chrome may be measured more by how many enterprises switch from Office to Google Docs than by how many consumers switch from Internet Explorer to Chrome.

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Preston Gralla

Computerworld (US)

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