Google Chrome – A Quick Review

-Akshay Ranganath

Today, Google is launching it’s new browser called “Google Chrome” as a beta in more than 100 countries. This is to be an open source browser, taking a lot from the communities of Firefox and Apple. Reasoning on the lauch, the official Google Blog says,

“We search, chat, email and collaborate in a browser. And in our spare time, we shop, bank, read news and keep in touch with friends — all using a browser. Because we spend so much time online, we began seriously thinking about what kind of browser could exist if we started from scratch and built on the best elements out there.”

All this sounds correct – and good. However, but, underneath, the browser seems to be yet another appetite for Google’s hunger for data. Consider this, until now, Google could track you if you were on Google Search, Blogger, Mail or one of its innumerable products. With the browser, you just don’t have to be on their site. All you need is use their browser – and over a period of time, start collecting anonymous information on the browsing habits of users and fine tune the ads. Better ads, better money.

I know it is a bit paranoid that privacy may not be invaded but, if Google chose to, would it be not possible to gain this advantage?

Microsoft though should now be feeling a bit jittery – with the dominance on OS being questioned (Vista fiasco) and online document sharing sites impacting the Office dominance, the latest launch from Google must really be scaring them off!

What do you feel?

Updated on 04/09 after actually used Chrome for about 4 hours..

Why another browser?
One question on everyone’s mind seems to be “Why another browser?” and “Why should Google bother about it?” Well, the answer seems to be buried in many blogs and reviews. But two things emerge:

1. Competition with MS

At a superficial level, Google wants to keep Microsoft on its toes. IE is still the market leader with more than 70% market share. Despite Firefox being popular, 13% is still a small user base. Google wants to thow its weight and push more users to the browser platform and ‘disintermediate’ users from the shackles of not just IE but from the clutch of Windows itself. After all when the browser can open sites like applications, users start to lose the differentiator between what’s online and what’s offline. So Google Documents can take over Microsoft Office and be quite nifty on any platform.

2. Switching to cloud computing

At a more depth though, Google wants to turbo charge the adoption of the cloud. As this article says:

To Google, the browser has become a weak link in the cloud system – the needle’s eye through which the outputs of the company’s massive data centers usually have to pass to reach the user – and as a result the browser has to be rethought, revamped, retooled, modernized. Google can’t wait for Microsoft or Apple or the Mozilla Foundation to make the changes .. so Google is jump-starting the process with Chrome.” Continuing on this line the author says that winning the browser war is not the strategy – it is jump starting the user adoption to a ‘cloud’ based mode that is the real driver behind this innovation.


A small benchmark test

Yesterday, I used the browser for almost 4 hours and came away quite impressed. Since the browser claimed to have a Javascript engine that is separe (aka Virtual machine), I loaded sites that are AJAX/JS heavy like http://g.ho.st (a web operating system) to see what happened. Firefox handled ok, IE crawled while Chrome simple dazzled. Then, I tried some (illegal) mp3 songs download. This was simply incredible. Not sure how they did it, songs of about 7 MB that would have take 2-3 minutes got downloaded in about half a minute! I am still trying to figure out if the network was somehow so good yesterday (although I dount it..)

Relief for developers

If you’ve executed a project where the client demands multi-browser support, I’m sure you know how hard it is to achieve. With functionality, you can somehow wrench a logic but with the browsers, it is a totally illogical and irrational trial and error that can take eons to complete.

Luckily, Chrome is based on the Apple’s WebKit fore rendering the pages. So, hopefully, us developers will not be hit too hard and won’t have to design one more CSS hack set for one more browser.. Yippie!

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Author: akshayrangananth

CDN Specialist, Web performance evangelist, and SEO tinkerer.

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