Google Chrome, Or How I Might Stop Worrying And Love The Web [Update: Screenshots]

Yesterday, a Google-created comic-book heralded the arrival of a new web browser: Google Chrome. The accidental unveiling prompted an early announcement by Google that yes, we will indeed see another webbrowser enter the market. So there it is. The company everyone most people love is about to enter a saturated market full of passionate users. Is this really a good idea? Yes. Yes it is, and there are a lot of reasons why that is.

First of all, judging by the comic-book it seems to me that Google has been focusing primarily on usability and advancing web applications through faster JavaScript execution. A lot of other buzzwords are mentioned, but of them all, I’ll bet those two are the ones that’ll set Chrome apart from the already magnificent competition.

Google_Chrome_UI

Looking at what few glimpses we’ve yet seen of Chrome, it’s quite clear that Google has taken inspiration (and admits to having done so) from the other major players. There’s no file menu and the tabs are now above the addressbar. Removing all the features that aren’t immediately necessary in day-to-day browsing has effectively made a very clean and cruft-free UI. Whether we’ll have to stick with that hideous-looking bluish skin or whether Chrome will be able to use the operating system default skin, remains to be seen. (Small update on this from the beta: It seems that for at least the window frames, Google is able to harness the Vista “glass” effect. Text-areas, however, are still not Vista textareas but more like Firefox 2 1px bordered squares).

Putting the tabs right at the top, to me, is the most interesting aspect of Chrome. Doing this puts much more value on tabs: suddenly using tabs isn’t an option, it’s an integral feature you have to learn.

A while back I tried tackling tabs and found that having them be right at the top felt most logical. After all, navigation controls are related to the contents of each tab so there’s really no reason to physically dislodge the two. An added benefit for Windows users would be that when the window was maximized, tabs will be close to the top edge of your screen. Screen edges are prime real-estate when talking usability—just ask Paul Fitt—so this would be worth working towards (( Whether Chrome will actually utilizise this benefit, we’ll have to wait for the beta to see. Update: Google Chrome does make use of the screen edges for the tabs! Impressive. )). It was an interesting challenge, and while the result at the time felt a tad off, Google has now canonized it. Behold my totally prescient prediction:

Firefox_Redesign_1

Focusing so much on one tab one webpage can also be seen as a statement of intent. With Calendar, Gmail and Docs, Google has clearly positioned themselves as application providers. With so much focus on the tabs, your browser might actually start to look like an operating system in itself; each tab representing an application in your little operating system microcosmos. Suddenly it’s not so far off to speculate that Google Chrome is the oft-rumoured Google Operating System (( Taking in to account that JavaScript will be runtime-compiled in Chrome, I find there’s very little doubt left that Google wants us to start seeing the web as more than just information)). Even the name itself, Chrome, refers to the the surrounding frames and borders of an application window.

Give that some thought. If all your applications ran in your browser (even today, apps such as Photoshop can do so), whether you ran Windows or MacOS would be moot. You could simply switch to Ubuntu as long as it could run Chrome—it would save you quite a few bucks.

It’s interesting to note that Google chose WebKit, Safari’s HTML engine, as opposed to Firefox’s Gecko engine. Google argues the former has a cleaner codebase, but no matter what, it’s a slap in the face of Mozilla. I bet it’s made even more bitter considering Ben Goodger of former Firefox fame is now working on Chrome. What this means to Gecko and XUL will be fascinating to see. Considering the performance gains Gecko got in Firefox 3, Gecko might not die altogether.

There’s a question of why Google wants to do this. The passionate Firefox user might argue (and be right about) that Google could save oodles of cash in not having to pay Mozilla for their search engine to be included in the browser (( Then again, Google just extended that contract for a full 3 years. )). The more people used Chrome over Firefox, the less Google would have to pay Mozilla. That being said, I would guess the amount Google pays Firefox is considered peanuts to the brightly colored company, peanuts they would gladly continue to pony up as long as it annoyed Microsoft. Also, Chrome is open source, so there’s really no reason to think anyone at Google wants to cannibalize Mozillas marketshare. Even so, that’s going to happen to some extent. That, or Chrome fails miserably.

The other aspect where Chrome sets itself apart, the new JavaScript engine, I believe tells more about Googles true agenda. Essentially the engine executes JavaScript—the programming language used for most of Googles webapps—way faster in Chrome. Possibly, Google will even be able to do things in Chrome they can’t do in any of the other browsers (( Unless those browsers adopt the also-open-source V8 JavaScript engine )).

Following the development and adoption of Chrome is going to be super interesting. What will it look like? Will it really be as fast as they boast? And what new apps will Google build for it? Will those apps work in other browsers? Clearly Google is playing chess, and Chrome is one of their pieces. I can’t wait to see who gets checkmated.

Update: Go grab the beta.

15 thoughts on “Google Chrome, Or How I Might Stop Worrying And Love The Web [Update: Screenshots]”

  1. Chrome will mean different things depending on who/what you are. The one thing it does mean to everyone though is that the Internet is the operating system, and the clouds are moving closer to earh.

    You are Apple;

    This means that if it were not enough of a conflict of interest (Iphone VS Google’s Android) to have Google CEO Eric Schmidt sit on your board – It is now. Look for Schmidt to resign sometime in the next six months.

    If you are Microsoft;

    This means that if you ever considered making Internet Explorer open source in the past, now is the time… You can not afford to wait, not even another minute. Expect Microsoft to make Vaporware like noise over the next few months about cloud widgets to give IE closer ties to cloud based initiatives.

    If you are Yahoo;

    you need to buy Mozilla.

    If you are Firefox;

    Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer…yes continue with your Google revenue deal, but learn how to monetize your Browser outside of a paid search deal. Leverage your large user base to form “spin-off” type “power of the crowd” businesses. Note to Firefox, hey you guys ARE a social network…you just haven’t figured that out yet.

    If you are Sun;

    Realize that Java is even less relevant every day. First we kicked you out of client side computing because you were a resource hog. Realize that Java will now continue to be less and less relevant on the Server. What a waste of a good company… McNealy must have got hit in the head with one to many hockey pucks.

    If you are a social network;

    “social networks” would follow along with users in the browser. Truth be told, we thought it would be Facebook, or even more likely Firefox that would lead in this initiative. So if you are a social network, you need to know now Chrome is the first step in a series of moves that will make it unnecessary for your peeeps to ever visit your site (directly) again.

    If you are an application developer;

    Life used to be simple, eh? You knew that you should be developing applications for Windows, because that is where the 100’s of millions of users were. Fast forward, and now you need to choose what platforms to support, and when. Of course it makes sense to develop for Windows still, but Apple now has a mass of millions of Mac OSx users, and if it a browser based app, write once for Safari, and it should work without much adaptation on the Iphone. There are over a billion cell phones in use world wide, however every phone requires writing to separately (yes even all those different flavors of Java are different phone to phone. Suddenly with Android coming, and a matching desktop browser you need to be here.

    Lastly if you are a consumer;

    There is always a bottleneck somewhere … Think back 5-10 years ago, before what we now refer to broadband… Dial up was painffulllllyy slow, and when you tried to browse, the bottleneck was in your “last mile” connectivity. Once you got broadband, the lag time in reaching a site was likely in your PC (not enough ram, slow processor, etc). Before either of those issues though it was the software that was not “smart” enough to keep up with the ever faster CPU’s being created.

    Look for Chrome to optimize all these new “cloud” based application initiatives like Google Gears, etc. This is just another nail in the coffin for desktop based computing. In 10 years, likely 90%+ of your applications will reside somewhere outside of your home or workplace – but certainly not on your desktop.

    http://www.twitter.com/A_F

  2. Gareth says:

    Damn its ugly.

    i would never use it anyway as i am sure google will be tracking everything i do.

  3. Gareth says:

    to be fair it does look a lot nicer on vista. I like the clean interface which is pretty much how i have my firefox. No search box is a big mistake.

  4. Gustaf says:

    In case you haven’t noticed, the entire address bar is the search box.

    Type in the address bar and get suggestions for both search and web pages.

    Unless you meant “find”, in that case do a CTRL+F

  5. media buff says:

    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

  6. Scaught says:

    I must say that I agree with Andrew 100%.

    Great writing as well.

  7. Gareth says:

    No, i noticed you could use the address by but only if you want to search google – what about all the other sites i search regularly? ebay, wikipedia, flickr etc.

  8. Joen says:

    hat about all the other sites i search regularly? ebay, wikipedia, flickr etc.

    Actually there’s a very elegant solution to that. Search those sites once, and Chrome “captures” their searchbox. It’ll look like this:

    http://noscope.com/photostream/albums/various/google-chrome/Vista_Search_Amazon.png

    Basically now that Amazons searchbox is captured, we write “amazon” “keyword”.

  9. Joen says:

    Oh, and it’s fairly easy to change the default search engine. That’s done here:

    http://noscope.com/photostream/albums/various/google-chrome/Vista_Options_basics.png

  10. gareth says:

    damn! that`s a nice feature!

    only things stopping me uses it is the color scheme, lack of ad block, mouse gestures, rss support (wtf?), page zoom, and the fact that they are going to track everything i do.

  11. Joen says:

    RSS support. Hmm yeah that is oddly lacking. Perhaps they argue that should be an extension, or you should use “Google Reader” for that. Still they need some way to subscribe, don’t they?

    As for the tracking, I’m not so scared. I’m pretty sure most of the bad stuff is disabled by default. As for the stats they can track based on the omnibar, is that really different from what they could track with any other Google search?

    I think the one thing that’ll win me over is if they add extensions support like that of Firefox. It really will be make or break.

  12. Joen says:

    Here’s a mockup of what Chrome could look like on OSX.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/smeidu/2826755088/sizes/o/

  13. abu says:

    Very nice article (and very nice site btw) =)

    Just one thing: _”Google will even be able to do things in Chrome they can

  14. Jenny-fa says:

    I agree with Gareth. I would be irritated to use something so blandly Google-esque, and I’m already concerned about Google taking over the world by monopolizing all of our personal information. Just the thought of a Google browser sounds fishy; how do we know if it’s secretly sending data to Google’s database as we surf the Web? And I also prefer tabs to be located next to the content area, if you can believe it. I’m lazy (and semi-afflicted with carpal tunnel syndrome), so I would rather not mouse all the way to the top of the screen just to reach the tabs.

    At any rate, the Mac OS X mockup looks like a definite improvement over its Windows counterpart. Its lack of buttons and menu bars still disturbs me, though… there’s such a thing as “too simplistic,” I think. Anyway, I won’t be able to try it out in the meantime since I use a Mac.

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