Google enters the Fray with Chrome

Web applications are pretty neat. They tend to collectively serve a wide variety of needs, from handling email to reading news to shopping online. The standard browsers today work all right with these, because the applications have been coded to work in the browsers. This tends to sometimes highlight limitations of, or inconsistencies between, the browsers.

Google is looking to remedy the situation by approaching the problem from the other direction, by building a browser that will run web applications. The result was recently announced, and is called Chrome.

Chrome is a big change from normal web browsers, in that it is optimized for running web applications. The interface is a little different, as it is trying to keep each application separate. There’s much detail on the subject, but it seems to be covered fairly nicely with an online comic. The comic emphasizes browser stability, speed, security, and ease of use.

The concept is similar to that of the Mozilla Prism project, but goes further.

Chrome can run each application in a separate tab. The tabs are protected from each other in that they each get their own process and memory space. In typical browsers, a single tab crashing will take down the whole browser. In Chrome, only the one tab crashes, and others are left unaffected. I think this is a great idea.

As part of the separate tab, separate process paradigm, JavaScript has been sped up, but runs within a sandbox. This means it cannot load malware or read or write files on the computer. Also, scripting within one tab affects that tab only, and none of the others.

Also interesting is that Chrome is using the open source WebKit engine under the hood. This is good to know, as WebKit is regarded as a solid and stable piece of software. It is also interesting in that Google did not use the Gecko engine that powers Firefox, as Google has backed Mozilla and Firefox in the past.

The concept is an interesting one, for certain. But I’m not sure that it is needed. There are numerous browsers out there already, and perhaps the effort going into Chrome could be better spent on helping improve the other browsers. On the flip side, though, by going their own way, Google can truly innovate with this concept. And the fact that it is open source can only help, with feedback and contributions from the OS community.

Having read discussions on the news, there is concern that Chrome will be yet another browser to develop for. This is with Opera, Safari, Firefox 2+3, and Internet Explorer 5, 6, 7 already in the picture. But Chrome is built on top of WebKit, the same rendering engine Safari uses. The engine is very current, and keeping up with the standards, so as long as the Chrome team keep their embedded copy of WebKit current, I suspect it will not be a problem.

The project is located at http://www.google.com/chrome, it is currently in beta, and currently only available for Windows. Mac and Linux versions are expected shortly. I think it is worth a download and try-out. I’ve done so, and have included some screenshots below.