Google Chrome joins Browser Wars II

In one of the most important announcements in recent years for the web browsers market, Google has announced that it is working on a new open source browser, called Google Chrome.

And from the creative way of announcing it in comic book form to a very nice feature mashup, Google means business with Chrome, announced for release later today in beta form.

Here’s a summary of what we can expect from Google Chrome:

- It is based on WebKit, the open source web engine that powers Safari. Google is also using WebKit for all web browser related operations of Android, its mobile devices platform.

- Tabs get a much more independent implementation: each will feature its own location bar (the omnibox, see below) and navigation buttons (a la Opera), but most importantly, they get their own process which means if one of them crashes it doesn’t take down the whole browser. It is easy to think a larger memory footprint as a consequence but Google notes that a second benefit is that when closing a tab or moving away to a different web site, it is easier to discard all used memory, preventing (or at least reducing) memory fragmentation which helps reduce the memory consumption. Internet Explorer 8 betas already implement the isolated tab crash aspect, but I’m not sure about the memory benefits.

- A task manager will allow users to know how much memory, CPU, and bandwidth is using each tab to easily spot the culprit of a slowdown.

- It embeds V8, an open source JavaScript engine and virtual machine that uses optimization techniques similar to TraceMonkey (it compiles most commonly used code to avoid slow code interpretation).It also uses precise garbage collection where instead of scanning all memory for unreferenced pieces, it tracks every memory allocation and is able to release it precisely.

- In the user experience front, the independent tab processes enables an easy implementation of tab dettaching and moving around, similar to tab reparenting, recently added to Firefox 3.1 and coming with Alpha 2.

- Opening a new tab will launch a dynamic dashboard instead of the usual blank page, presenting a search box, the nine most recently visited pages, and links to the sites you frequently search. This is a similar approach to recent Mozilla Labs experiments that recognize the new tab task as an opportunity to help the user get faster to what he needs. Like Mozilla, Google is aiming for a dynamic approach instead of Opera’s static first class bookmarks take with SpeedDial.

- Omnibox is the name they give the location bar, that merges suggestions, most visited pages, full text search history, in a way very similar to the awesome bar, but, according to the announcement, with no visual distraction such as flickering or flashing, and defaults to previously typed items.

- Web sites search engines are saved so you can use them later by pressing the first letters of the site and then tab to enter the search terms. Sounds interesting but I’ll have to see how they managed discoverability here.

- Comes with antiphishing and antimalware protection.

- Offers a privacy mode (called Incognito) you can enter to have all cookies, saved forms, history, etc. wiped out as soon as you leave the mode. A similar feature is already available in Safari and Internet Explorer 8 betas. Firefox 3.1 will not have this feature as initially planned.

- No popups are allowed. Not even useful ones. All of them are sent to the bottom right area where you can drag them out from to restore.

- Comes with Google Gears out of the box.

- Supports desktop web apps a la Prism.

- Plugins are ran on their own process to reduce the risk of security vulnerabilities that can’t be addressed by the sandbox scheme Chrome implements for all other code running on it.

- The beta will be available for Windows only with Linux and Mac versions to follow later.

That’s definitely an impressive list of features for a browser, specially the multiprocess implementation, V8, the task bar and privacy mode, and I am more than eager to try it.

There is however no mention about what languages will Chrome be available on, only that it will be launched in 100 countries. There are also no details about accessibility support, and perhaps the most intriguing, no mention of add-ons.

You need not to be a visionary to figure out most of these features will be replicated by some extension developer in a few days. I’m guessing Google will try to sell Google Gadgets as Google’s alternative which is of course limited.

Here’s a screenshot of the actual look of Google Chrome, obtained by TechCrunch.

So, let’s wait a few more hours and we”ll all see. In the meantime, here are a few initial reactions from Mozillians:

John Lilly, Mozilla CEO:

Mozilla and Google have always been different organizations, with different missions, reasons for existing, and ways of doing things. I think both organizations have done much over the last few years to improve and open the Web, and we’ve had very good collaborations that include the technical, product, and financial. On the technical side of things, we’ve collaborated most recently on Breakpad, the system we use for crash reports — stuff like that will continue. On the product front, we’ve worked with them to implement best-in-class anti-phishing and anti-malware that we’ve built into Firefox, and looks like they’re building into Chrome. On the financial front, as has been reported lately, we’ve just renewed our economic arrangement with them through November 2011, which means a lot for our ability to continue to invest in Firefox and in new things like mobile and services.

Disruptive Innovations’ Daniel Glazman:

Your search engine is google, your mail is google mail, your docs are on google docs, your maps are google, the ads you see are google, your system is Android, your browser is Google Chrome. Did someone hear the word “monopoly” ?

Let’s see it from the bright side of life: there’s a new OSS and standards-compliant browser and that’s good, and there’s a high probability Steve Ballmer is currently breaking a few chairs and it’s even better.

John Resig:

By implementing this feature [the process manager] a browser is completely deflecting all memory or performance criticism off to individual site owners (“Yikes, my browser is using 300MB of memory! Actually it’s just youtube.com consuming 290MB of it, they should fix their web site!”). This is going to be a monumental shift in the responsibilities of web developers – and one that will serve the web better, as a whole.

Robert Accettura:

Also interesting were some of the names mentioned in the comic. While long known a few Mozilla hackers went to Google, here’s a list that are mentioned in the comic: Darin Fisher, Ben Goodger, Brett Wilson (various Mozilla contributions via Google), Arnaud Weber (Netscape).

Mozilla Labs’ Aza Raskin:

It’s interesting to see that the Chrome team has been exploring the same thoughts we’re talking about last month here in Mozilla Labs, with Contextual New-Tab Actions, Ambient News, and Auto Dial.

It’s encouraging that there is such a confluence of design—although I felt an odd jolt of déjà vu the first time I read that panel. Let’s hear it for zero-configuration interfaces!

David Bolter:

Is Chrome accessible? Although there was a lot of information about V8, the JavaScript VM, the comic didn’t tell me if it had WAI-ARIA support for JavaScript+DOM+CSS based web applications. I was really hoping to see a T.V. Raman, or Charles Chen comic character.

Chris Blizzard:

I love what google chrome represents. The work that we’ve been doing inside of the Mozilla project over the last ten years has really paid off. The fact that Google believes that they can launch a browser based on new technology means that the market is alive.

Al Billings:

Not having seen this browser yet (no one outside Google has, I would guess), it is hard to give an opinion on it. Generally, as long as things are standards based so we don’t have to write some specialized version of web pages for a browser, I’m in the “the more, the merrier” camp, especially if it turns out to be entirely open source. Since they are using WebKit as the rendering engine for it, I expect that it will render pages as well (or as badly) as Safari does.

Here’s a link to a PDF version of the comic I compiled for your easy reading.


8 Comments

  1. media buff September 2, 2008 7:12 pm 

    i’m willing to try it out just to see if it works more efficiently than FireFox… if it’s faster than Firefox, has tabs and isn’t IE, then i’ll use it

  2. Kindred 5eeker September 4, 2008 5:29 am 

    I interested to see what sort of built-in “spying” features Chrome will have e.g. will it be possible to selectively disable the javascripts that report to googlesyndication !?

    Google can bee too much of a good thing. From my own recent experience with their seach engine compared against yahoo, I’m beginning to suspect that they not as “open” and don’t provide as level a playing field as they would like us to think.

    I for one will continue to stick to Firefox (with it’s rich library of addons) until we’ve had a chance to investigate Chrome more thoroughly.

  3. Olh September 4, 2008 3:27 pm 

    It’s a major victory for Mozilla and their mission of promoting innovation and choice, but, first and foremost, it’s a major victory for us, the users. Any product made by Google is a serious competition, and more competition means better browsers and a better Web for all of us. Yay Chrome!

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