<IT WORLD> Chrome contender in browser battle
By Martin J Young
HUA HIN, Thailand - Web-browser creators spun a flurry of new threads to
attract Internet surfers this week, with Google announcing a new product,
Microsoft tweaking its latest version, and Mozilla winning more market share
with its Firefox.
Google's Chrome web browser was launched to more than 100 countries this week
as a beta release. In true Google fashion, it continues to try to take market
share from arch-rival Microsoft, which has held the top spot with its Internet
Explorer browser for almost a decade, after crushing Netscape.
Chrome is being touted as a complete web platform, with the
ability to run applications in addition to displaying web pages. Google claims
that Chrome can perform faster and in a more stable and secure way than its
rivals Explorer, Firefox, Apple's Safari and Norway-based Opera. The browser
has been in the works for about two years and has been meticulously tested on
often fastidious company employees - including co-founders Larry Page and
Chrome is likely to be another step towards cloud computing, whereby programs
and information are stored on the web instead of on the desktop. This would
pitch Google's new browser as the first salvo against Microsoft's dominating
Office suite. Getting people to move over to a cloud computing concept takes
them away from reliance on monopolizing software companies. This seems to be
the dominant strategy now for Google, which cannot compete with Microsoft in
terms of software packages.
On first impression, Chrome is quite similar in appearance to Firefox, while
seeming a little cleaner and less cluttered than other browsers. Performance
and responsiveness are its primary selling points, hence the lack of flashy
buttons and gimmicks - quite the opposite of Internet Explorer. The download
and install is fast and after a prompt it will even effortlessly import all of
your settings from Mozilla's Firefox browser.
Fast, tabbed, browsing are the first thing users will notice until they venture
under the hood to see what else Chrome is capable of. The tabs are also dynamic
which means you can pull them about, drag and drop, and rearrange them with
ease. Opening a new tab will show your latest nine viewed web pages and latest
bookmarked pages, making returning to frequently accessed sites easier.
The address bar seems to be a combination of those on Firefox and Explorer but
with the omission of a "Home" button and a search bar. Searches can be
conducted in the address bar, naturally using Google as the engine, where
keywords entered will pull up the results of the top entries from Google's
search technology. This may not be a good thing for the thousands of web
designers struggling to get their sites into Google's elusive top five
You can also create desktop or start menu shortcuts to run web applications
such as video in their own window without the surrounding gumph. There is also
better connectivity with Gears, Google's online data synchronization
technology, which updates the online and offline versions of whatever you are
working on at the time.
Chrome boasts advanced security features and independent tabs, which can be
closed on their own if a website crashes during operation. Other browsers need
to be completely restarted in this event. It also has its own task manager that
can be accessed with the Shift + Escape buttons. This is very handy for
checking on what is using your resources and closing down errant plug-ins or
Yet Chrome, despite Google's claim that the browser has been developed
completely from scratch, does seem to be just a collection of the best features
from other browsers with a couple of gadgets thrown in for good measure.
Another rival in the market is good news for the consumer but bad for web
developers, who have had a constant battle to get their websites performing and
looking the same across an ever-expanding range of browsers.
In the Mozilla camp, there may be some doubt on how long support for its
Firefox browser will come from Google. Mozilla executives have stated that
competition is not a bad thing - it will help them to strive for a more
innovative and better product. The financial agreement between them is due to
continue until 2011 and Google has yet to announce anything that is likely to
alter the partnership. Mozilla may have to choose between playing nice with
Google, its neighbor in Mountain View, California, or going it alone, and
competing with both Google and Microsoft's dominant Internet Explorer.
Only last week, the second beta version of Internet Explorer 8 was released
offering an additional 50 features that address usability, security,
compatibility and manageability. Page load times and speed are always a key
factor and after the prehistoric performance of IE7 the software engineers
needed to do something pretty spectacular with IE8 so that it can compete with
the likes of Firefox and Chrome.
A number of the new features are already employed on other browsers, such as
the intelligent address bar that remembers keywords from your previous searches
and a "find on this page" function, which lets you search through individual
web pages. Grouped and color-coded tabs are handy organizing features Microsoft
seems to have found before the competition.
Security was beefed up, as Internet Explorer is the web equivalent of a cartoon
bull's eye - it has the biggest usage hence is the biggest target for hackers,
spyware and malware. Installation is time-consuming and cumbersome, since IE is
built into Windows whereas other browsers are simpler third-party applications
that sit on top of the operating system. Windows XP SP3 users should also be
aware that you cannot uninstall IE8 beta 2, so if it doesn't play well you're
stuck with it until the full version is released later this year.
IE's market share declined in August to 72.15% according to market researcher
Net Applications, while Firefox continues to climb, to a 19.73% share last
month. The rest of the market was made up of Safari at 6.37%, boosted by iPhone
and Mac OSX sales, and Opera with 0.74%. The impact of Google's Chrome on those
statistics will become evident in a couple of months.
Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.