Browser Wars

Web search giant Google surprised everyone — even those technology journalists who closely follow the industry — with its post-Labor Day announcement that it was releasing a Web browser. The distribution, called “Chrome,” has made waves thus far, but it remains to be seen whether it can break Microsoft’s seemingly indissoluble majority share of the browser market.

No doubt Redmond was surprised, if not disconcerted, by the news from Mountain View. But the folks at Mozilla — who recently released the third installment of Firefox, the world’s second-most popular Web browser after Microsoft’s Internet Explorer — might have been even more taken aback by this revelation. After all, Google and Mozilla have a long-standing partnership, to the point where the former has committed to advertising Firefox through 2011. The release of Chrome, though, could potentially strain this once-close relationship.

For its part, Google has maintained Chrome isn’t about competition with Explorer, Firefox, Opera or any other browser. The company’s official line is that it’s about making the Web better by giving users more options. To that end, Chrome’s open-source structure has been emphasized in Google’s promotions.

“We owe a great debt to many open source projects, and we’re committed to continuing on their path,” said Google Vice President of Product Management Sundar Pichai and Engineering Director Linus Upson in a blog posted on Labor Day. “[I]n that spirit, we are making all of our code open source as well. We hope to collaborate with the entire community to help drive the Web forward.”

The blog also included a nod to Apple’s WebKit and Mozilla’s Firefox as influences in the development of Chrome, which seemed to be an attempt to assuage possible concerns about competition from those companies.

So what are some of the more compelling features Chrome promises? Here are a few, from Google’s comic-book-style announcement featuring caricatures of actual company employees (seriously):

  1. Separate browser tabs: Instead of having a single browser window that contains separate tabs of Web pages, Google has inverted the tabs to the top of the page to have multiple browser windows represented by multiple tabs. This is designed to decrease the browser’s demands on your machine’s memory, as well as prevent all of your open Web pages from being lost because of one bad site.
  2. Virtual machines: Google is touting Chrome’s V8 VM, developed by team of experts based in Denmark. The company said V8 will offer users greater browsing speed, platform independence and better memory management.
  3. Security improvements: Through a technique called “sandboxing,” Google is attempting to prevent sites from writing malware to your hard drive. Once you close a browser window, any computing that was being performed disappears. Additionally, Chrome continually downloads phishing sites to alert users if they happen to navigate to a site that’s known to be scamming people.

With the release of Chrome, Google is taking a bold step toward its stated goal of “keeping the Web moving forward.” The question that presents itself now is: Will regular Web users want to go along for the ride?

– Brian Summerfield, bsummerfield@certmag.com

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