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How Bright Is The Outlook For Chrome?
Most of the tech journalists in the San Francisco Bay Area were at Google this morning for a briefing and demo of Chrome. Danny earlier posted lots of detail on the search dimensions of Chrome. And there are quite a few posts and articles about features and first impressions.
Chrome’s objective, according to Google, is to make web browsing more productive, secure, faster and more stable. The list of Chrome’s features can be found here. A few standouts are:
Omnibox: combined address bar and search box that uses search history (like Firefox 3) to quickly suggest sites. It takes some getting used to. It also allows for searches on third party sites directly.
Dynamic tabs: the ability to manipulate tabs (e.g., drag, create new window) is a nice feature.
Application shortcuts, which, when combined with Google Gears allows users to work with web apps as though they were desktop software (e.g., Gmail).
New tab page/dashboard: most-visited pages are displayed in a dasboard (similar to Opera Speed Dial)
Crash control: pages or plug-ins that fail don’t crash the entire browser, just the tab. This is based on what Google called “multi-processing” technology. Tabs operate independently of one another.
A function called Incognito allows anonymous browsing; no web history is collected on those tabs. The feature is equally available on IE 8, which goes a bit further to protect consumer privacy. Google, for its part, doesn’t want people to clear their histories because much of Chrome’s functionality is built on user history.
A large number of the features on Chrome are admittedly borrowed from or inspired by other browsers. However, Google is making Chrome entirely open source. The core rendering engine is WebKit, the same engine used in Safari. Google said it wanted to give more choice to users without creating more challenges for developers. Accordingly if a page works in Safari, it will work in Chrome.
Google argued this morning that it needed to build its own browser — rather than working with Mozilla/Firefox or another provider — because most of what it wanted to do could not be done as a “layer” on top of existing browsers.
Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin attended the Q&A session following the briefing and said they were grateful to Mozilla for bringing competition and innovation back to the browser market. They also said they hoped that some or all of the components of Chrome would be adopted by others (including Mozilla and even Microsoft). It’s not clear yet whether Google will allow outside developers to drive major new code and further enhancements or whether Google will merely allow others to adopt what it has created.
Chrome is impressive in many respects and it is differentiated enough (in total) that it may take usage from Firefox and/or Safari. It’s unlikely that the bulk of mainstream IE users are going to quickly adopt Chrome however. Firefox users, by contrast, tend more to fit the the tech-savvy, early adopter profile. And Chrome is pretty clearly a power-users’ tool.
Firefox’s CEO John Lilly offered an upbeat assessment of Mozilla’s prospects in a more competitive marketplace. It seems strange given the close relationship between Google and Firefox that the latter wasn’t given any advanced notice or involved in the project. Google kept a tight lid on the project until the company reached some internal benchmarks.
In development for about two years, Chrome is being released now because there are apparently enough satisfied, full-time internal Google users according to Sundar Pichai, Product VP.
Many press at the briefing asked about the relationship between Chrome, Google search and ads. How was Google going to benefit from Chrome? Google said that there are no ads, no direct tie to any Google services and no impact on search or search results. Instead, Google sees itself moving the web application infrastructure forward with this new “platform” (not OS) that will allow for a better user experience and — in the future — potentially richer web apps.
Google also sees itself being able to develop some of those richer apps for Chrome, which helps shift computing away from the desktop (somewhat) and onto the internet. Gears is part of this larger initiative. As with Android, Google is trying to prod the market in its direction.
The outlook for Chrome is unclear. There will likely be an initial wave of downloads among the curious. However it’s not clear that Chrome will penetrate the broader market in the near future. But Google doesn’t need significant market share for Chrome to be a success. It just needs other browsers to imitate, emulate or directly adopt its features and code and improve — in Google’s view of the world.
Larry Page said a better, faster browser will translate into more web usage. And more web usage means more search, and more search means more ads. You get the idea.