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Open Web: Article

Cloud Computing Expo - Google Chrome & Browser War III

Google said Chrome will initially run only on Windows Vista and XP

With Chrome, Google gets to scare the bejesus out of Microsoft by revitalizing Netscape’s old browser-as-platform threat and keep Firefox around as a fallback position in case Chrome doesn’t catch on or is slow in catching on, all the while maintaining the goodwill of the “community.” Firefox currently holds ~18% of the market to Microsoft’s ~75%.

Google has come out from behind the Firefox browser that it's been pumping money into - and profiting royally from - to take direct aim at Microsoft with a browser of its very own.

The widgetry is called Google Chrome and Google Chrome, like all of Google's non-search widgetry, is a beta.

Presumably that means it's going to be like Google's apps and be interminably in beta since Google's own blog says the timing is "a bit early," well, at least a day earlier than intended as a result of a hair-trigger mailroom that on Monday FedEx'd a 38-page comic book - yes, a comic book - memorializing the new browser's features to Google's nearest and dearest. (http://blogoscoped.com/google-chrome/)

Making the best of things, Google said Chrome will initially run only on Windows Vista and XP. The Mac and Linux versions haven't reached beta status yet forcing Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who uses a Mac, to run Chrome on VMware.

Advertised as being built from scratch and a "rethink" of the browser made more suitable for the modern web, Chrome was released Tuesday afternoon in 122 countries and 43 languages. Google described it as "clean and fast" so people "forget" they're on a browser.

Google said, "It gets out of your way and gets you where you want to go."

It was only a few days ago that Google - the "do no evil" company - re-upped its financial arrangement with Mozilla, which was scheduled to end this November. It extended the deal three years until November of 2011.

It's been Google's millions - hundreds of millions by now - that have kept Firefox alive and Google has presumably reaped billions from Firefox' Google defaults in return.

But Google apparently wants to be its own gatekeeper - the browser is the threshold to search, isn't it?

The Wall Street Journal reports that Google is concerned that IE8 could hurt its search business by, say, preventing it from collecting information relevant to its booming advertising business and offering a more Microsoft-centric search bar.

With Chrome Google gets to scare the bejesus out of Microsoft by revitalizing Netscape's old browser-as-platform threat and keep Firefox around as a fallback position in case Chrome doesn't catch on or is slow in catching on, all the while maintaining the good will of the "community."

Firefox, which might have started asking for more money and which Google said it expects to come to resemble Chrome - (perhaps it really means disappear into Chrome) - currently holds ~18% of the market to Microsoft's ~75%.

Google has been seriously working on the "GBrowser" project for two years, give or take, ever since it poached some prime Mozilla talent for the cause. Since then the widgetry has reportedly been through at least one serious rewrite and goodness knows how many UI iterations.

Chrome is open source and Google has set up an open source project called Chromium so developers can pile on. The beta is, after all, according to Google "only step one." It's using a permissive BSD license.

The mojo includes a new JavaScript rendering engine called V8 that's supposed to speed up the fancy new rich interactive AJAX applications (RIA) being written for the web - and web apps are, of course, a threat to Microsoft, especially ones Google may have up its sleeve.

V8, by the way, which was written by a bunch of Danish coders, is supposed to be able to run in any browser to accelerate JavaScript by a factor of 100, and speed for Google translates into more searches.

It's supposed to enable a whole new class of web applications but not all web apps are JavaScript.

Chrome also includes Google Gears so applications can run offline - one might expect integration with Google Talk, Gmail, Google Calendar etc. - and it's based on Webkit, the KDE-owing open source application framework used by Apple's Safari browser and Google's Android OS. Google said it picked Webkit so developers wouldn't have to learn still another technology.

Chrome borrows a so-called privacy or "porn mode" from Microsoft called Incognito in Google-speak that will hide where the machine you're using has been (cops everywhere should love that one) - but won't mean the sites you visit won't know you've been there.

Chrome's tabs, borrowed from Firefox, appear above the address bar and are supposed to be the prime navigational element.

Each tab runs its own process, so each is a separate browser, sandboxed for stability and security. A problem in one tab won't bring the whole browser down.

And Chrome's so-called Omnibox, its address bar-cum-search bar, is supposed to make useful search suggestions, in part based on the sites you've been to, and your most visited sites should appear as thumbnails.

Google claims Chrome doesn't load the dice for Google Search but Omnibox is obviously going to push users into more searches.

Observers like the rehabilitated Henry Blodget and Lehman Brothers analyst Doug Anmuth take Chrome for a cloud operating system that Blodget says Google will pay PC makers to install on stripped-down machines and over time create a serious threat to Windows and the Microsoft monopoly.

And according to Google's blog Chrome is "not just a browser, but also a modern platform for web pages and applications."

At a webcast press conference Tuesday Brin unconvincingly denied the idea that Chrome is an "operating system for web apps" but not that it couldn't be.

Google wouldn't talk about the number of developers it's had working on Chrome but vice-president of product management Sundar Pichai described it as "a huge investment for us."

The Journal's ace product reviewer, the revered Walt Mossberg, who said he had been playing with Chrome for the last week, comparing it to other browsers, described it as "rough around the edges" and lacking some common browser features like a simple command for e-mailing links and pages.

He also said that its bold new stripped-down design, which leaves behind most menus and toolbar icons, would "require some adjustment on the part of users" and that despite Google claims of being faster than a speeding bullet it was actually slower than Firefox or Safari at launching web pages.

Bottom line - Mossberg likes Microsoft's new IE8, out last week in a second beta, better than Chrome.

See www.google.com/chrome.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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