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Google Releases New Web Browser, ‘Chrome’

September 02, 2008 05:46 PM
by Anne Szustek
Google’s free open-source browser Chrome went live Tuesday afternoon, further positioning the company as a Microsoft competitor and challenging Firefox’s Mozilla.

Google’s Chrome Browser Available for Beta Testing

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Chrome, based on Apple’s WebKit software for downloading pages, was released Tuesday afternoon to Windows users in 100 countries and in 43 languages. Sundar Pichai, Google’s vice president of product management, said at a news conference Tuesday, “If you are a Webmaster, and your site works in Apple Safari then it will work very well in Google Chrome.”

Its distinguishing characteristic from Windows-accessible browsers Firefox and Internet Explorer is that Chrome runs each tab as a single process and segregates Web applications tab by tab. That means rather than an error to cause the browser to crash completely, just the one faulty tab will need a reboot, allowing users to avoid having to rewrite Web-based emails or redo many operations that do not rely on post-data.

This also could shift the ire of Web surfers facing crashing pages on the application developers rather than on the browser. For this reason, writes tech industry news site Webmonkey, “If Chrome catches on with users, web developers may be forced to write better, more efficient code or face the wrath of Google Chrome users.”

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, also in beta format and set for roll-out by the end of the year, employs a similar tab isolation model.

Given that Google is a major financial backer of Mozilla, this could reflect frustration on its part with recent versions of Firefox. Chris Messina, described by Webmonkey as a “longtime Firefox evangelizer,” told the tech news site “I just can’t read this any other way than to think that Google’s finally fed up waiting around for Firefox to get their act together.”

Google product manager Brian Radkowski writes on The Official Google Blog that only Windows users can now download Chrome, but visitors to the official download page can sign up for alerts when other versions become available.

Opinion & Analysis: Chrome has kinks; Google browser key strategic business move

The beta version of Chrome has been met with mixed reviews. Walt Mossberg, technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal, received a copy of the release a week in advance of Tuesday’s roll-out. He writes that Chrome’s innovations, including the browser’s placement of toolbar icons and menus inside individual tabs rather than on top of an entire browser, as well as the Omnibox, a window that merges the search and address bars, should “enhance the Web experience, but they will require some adjustment on the part of users.”

Chrome ran faster than Internet Explorer 8, but slower than Firefox and Safari, Mossberg writes. Plus the current version of Chrome lacks features commonly found in other browsers, such as a progress bar showing how much of a page has loaded, a way to organize bookmarks and a function for e-mailing links.

TechCrunch reports that Lively, a Google-designed application that allows users to create avatars and virtual worlds, is not compatible with Chrome, instead running on either Internet Explorer or Firefox with Windows Vista/XP. TechCrunch also pointed out Tuesday that Google Analytics was not tracking use of Chrome separately from that of Firefox.

But Google attributes that glitch to the fact that the new browser is in its nascent stages. And tech industry observers note that Chrome could just be the start of a Google-led revolution in browsing.

“In a couple of years, you won’t be downloading Google’s ‘browser.’ You’ll be downloading ‘Google’s software,’ as Silicon Alley Insider’s Henry Blodget points out. “The software will be seamlessly integrated, and … it will feature a Google search window (and, unlike Microsoft, Google won’t get in trouble when it sets the default to Google).”

Pertinent to Google’s strategy vis-à-vis Microsoft—besides the simple fact that it released its own browser—Blodget argues that in the future, Chrome “will be capable of running directly on any device without Windows. Unlike Windows, it will be free.”

Related Topic: Recent Google business moves

Chrome is merely Google’s most recent strategic maneuver to retain Web traffic and bolster itself against software titan Microsoft. In June, after Yahoo rejected a Microsoft bid to partially take over the former’s search engine function, Google entered a nonbinding agreement with the second-ranked search engine to run its ads next to Yahoo search results accessed from the United States and Canada. The deal could help Yahoo rake in up to some $800 million in additional revenue, however antitrust officials immediately questioned the move.
In late July, Google dropped its offer to buy social bookmarking site Digg. Had the search engine opted to buy Digg, it would have joined YouTube, Postini and Picasa as being among its 30-odd recent or partial acquisitions.
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