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Google Browser Puts the Cloud To Work

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It was nearly a decade ago when a then-young Marc Andreessen, the wunderboy founder of Netscape Communications, first talked about the concept of the browser pushing the operating system into the background. With the release of Google’s experimental browser, Chrome, we have come full circle.

A lot has changed in the past 10 years. For one thing, the cost of hardware and network infrastructure has declined sharply. Such a decline has led to what’s known as cloud computing, whereby companies like Amazon offer infrastructure on demand. That has, in turn, allowed innovators to roll out their applications without making major outlays up front.

In the meantime, always-on broadband connections at home, work, and while on the move have become commonplace. This has served as a catalyst for innovators, who have developed web services that are now screaming for browsers that allow your data to live on the web but be accessible offline, a trend I first wrote about out in a column for the now-defunct Business 2.0 magazine back in March of 2006.

As I noted back then…

“Things will get more exciting for entrepreneurs when we all start walking around with new Internet-ready portable devices…these pocket-size monsters with keyboards, luscious displays, and brisk 3G connections will soon replace laptops…all they need are browsers that can access Web-based software as easily as your desktop can.”

For web applications, the bigger and more real opportunity is with an emerging category of Internet-enabled devices optimized for on-the-go computing. They are skimpy on resources, but they all have browsers. And given app developers’ focus on designing apps that can be made available to millions simultaneously, the browser has taken a much more prominent role in our digital life compared to the operating system.

Alistair Croll put it best when he wrote:

“Browsers have made computers interchangeable; most of us can work on whatever machine we have at hand, be it a PC, Mac or an XO laptop. As a result, the browser is the new desktop. Today’s browser competition is less about who renders HTML properly, and more about what the incumbent browser is and how well it accommodates whatever new applications the Internet throws its way.”

But in order for web applications to match the desktop applications they seek to replace, these browsers need to start offering OS-like functionality. While this year has brought some changes in that direction, Google’s Chrome browser embodies such an approach as it is specifically built for these web applications.

“We realized that the web had evolved from mainly simple text pages to rich, interactive applications and that we needed to completely rethink the browser. What we really needed was not just a browser, but also a modern platform for web pages and applications, and that’s what we set out to build,” Sundar Pichai, VP of product management, and Linus Upson, engineering director, write on the Google blog.

One of the biggest improvements on this browser is the V8 JavaScript Virtual Machine, which allows multithreading and is said to be more stable than the current implementations of JavaScript. It enables the easy use of multiple web applications without slowing down the browser.

Google Chrome has faster JavaScript VM, better memory management, better Windows UI rendering, faster text layout and rendering,  and intelligent page navigation in comparison to other more widely adopted browsers. When combined with Google Gears technology, this is as close as you can get to replicating the desktop experience with web applications. “While we wanted to make more choices for users, we wanted to make less headaches for developers,” Pichai said in a demo of Chrome at the Google HQ on Tuesday. Chrome could act as the operating layer for cloud computers — and could turn out to be the netbook browser of choice.

“No, I would not call Chrome the operating system of web apps,” said Google co-founder Sergey Brin at the Tuesday demo. “I think it is a very fast engine to run web apps.

“With Chrome we will be able to bridge the divide; we will be able do more and more online,” he said. “You will be able to access your work from an Internet cafe and get all those benefits.”

Microsoft with its IE 8, Mozilla Firefox with its new technology efforts such as Prism and TraceMonkey, and Apple’s Safari are also moving to make their browsers work better with web-based services and applications.

No matter how you look at it, we’ve gone back to the future. And while the browser is not quite the OS yet, its relevance in our digital lives has become paramount.

With additional reporting from Liz Gannes

44 Responses to “Google Browser Puts the Cloud To Work”

  1. I agree that the browser is the most usable software on the computer, any computer.
    Yet I quite don’t understand how exactly it can be the OS.

    Can you put more light on the subject?


  2. Om,

    I’ve been reading your blog since quite some time and I do appreciate the quality of your reviews/commends etc about all the things you write about. And I must say I was humbled by your comment about eating your hat (or something to that effect) when you acknowledged that Hulu is here to stay. (again, something to that effect) but quite frankly I’ve been pretty disappointed with your review of Google’s Chrome.

    No doubt the experience so far (3-4 days or so?) has been good and it is a faster browser with no doubt a sleeker interface but it still has a long time to go before it reaches up to the level that Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Opera or other browsers have reached.

    Chrome offers basic web browsing functionalities (with faster JS execution) but apart from that, what can you talk about. Almost all the features that are being talked about are already in IE/FF/O and quite frankly, have become a hype because of the comic book which accidentally got released. Knowing how Google has launched products like GMAIL in the past, I have quite a big doubt about how much of an accident it actually was.

    So its got stats of each page – tell me frankly, how many times do you expect the geekiest of webdevelopers (a community im a part of) to actually look at that. Yes it gives you more spaces on the screen but there are single-click ways to accomplish that in IE/FF and Opera already has a good screen space available.

    Yes its got a download manager but it automatically downloads every file which any website offers for download without giving you the option to cancel it. I am not quite sure I would want my family to use a browser just in case my siblings or parents accidentally visit a website which sends lots of spyware on my home computer.

    Does it have support for extensions? spell check? good bookmark management. I would also like to see my commonly used shortcuts like Gmail/google reader on a toolbar link.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge Google/Microsoft fan, would love working for them as their products meet the kind of work that I do and use quite a many of their products to the point that my friends often ask me am I their spokesperson but I think the world has decided that Microsoft is Evil, Google is great and Firefox is good (or make that just OK as Google’s Chrome is here now).

    I have my reservations about Google’s not being evil statement as when Google buys DoubleClick – its next major competitor but when Microsoft tries buying some company, Google cries foul over its blog and suddenly the whole world is against that. Google winked and almost got away with that controversial clause in Chrome’s EULA but for one second, try imagining a similar situation with Microsoft instead of Google and they would have probably been slapped by millions of fine by EU and others.

    Stating that Google’s Chrome is the reason Cloud computing is going to go places is naive considering that its been not more than a week since its been launched putting the efforts of the IE/FF/O team non-existing.

  3. The merging of the address bar and search bar gives Google too much control over navigation. It separates companies and website operators from their website addresses and brands.

    Companies spend heavily to establish and maintain brands. Google has just imposed itself between consumers and businesses. Direct navigation has now become proprietary search, whereby Google uses its discretion to filter out web addresses and domains that it deems less relevant.

    I object and I hope you do too.

  4. Couldn’t agree more with the thrust of the article. All of the most usable and popular apps of the last couple of years (with the possible exception of Google Earth) have originated online, not on the desktop.

    Developers want to work there because it makes more sense to develop and support one version of an app than juggling many legacy versions n the dektop – so that’s where the talent is headed. Sure on the face it Chrome is just another browser but basically it’s methodology is more akin to a tradition OS (memory allocation, threading, proper namespace control etc).

    Yeah, the majority of ‘Web 2.0’ JS powered sites don’t have all the kind of functionality you get on a tradition OS, but it’s come down to a question of time and talent. There’s no shortage of either!

  5. Sign your life over to Google if you use Chrome. Thank you very much Google.
    11. Content license from you

    11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content
    which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By
    submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual,
    irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to
    reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly
    display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or
    through, the Services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling
    Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked
    for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

    11.2 You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make such
    Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom
    Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to
    use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.

    11.3 You understand that Google, in performing the required technical steps
    to provide the Services to our users, may (a) transmit or distribute your
    Content over various public networks and in various media; and (b) make such
    changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content
    to the technical requirements of connecting networks, devices, services or
    media. You agree that this license shall permit Google to take these

    11.4 You confirm and warrant to Google that you have all the rights, power
    and authority necessary to grant the above license.

  6. sailingwizard

    Oh man… I cant wait to try this out on Mac. Aren’t most google employees nerdy hipsters that use macs? I suppose the real market is the PC Microsoft work force.

  7. just downloaded the Chrome and it is no doubt very fast. Looks like it is still in the BETA i am sure they are going to add more features as time goes one..

    For now.
    – It does not support Applets or anything that has Java
    – As a developer i think they should not have SSL 2.0 checked by default when that is deprecated.
    As most of the users are regular users i think they should probably disable this. Firefox has infact removed this option.
    – Hmmm.. There is an option to make “Chrome the default browser” but there is no option to Turn this off”

  8. I’m digging the browser so far. It’s very clean and easy to use but I haven’t found a way to load my favorite RSS feeds into the bookmarks bar like Live Bookmarks in Firefox 3.0.

    Application shortcuts = brilliant.

    Chrome will be really interesting once developers start putting together extensions and plugins. Until then, I’ll probably flip back and forth between FF and the new toy.

  9. @vipin…. combining the URL field and the search bar is a cleverish trick. it sends more traffic to search engine of course. just start typing in the top bar and search results will pop up like normal OR if you enter a complete URL, it loads that URL.

  10. I just downloaded and installed Chrome ( I should say it looks and feels really simple. No clutter, tabs, address bar and the links tool bar, thats it. Tabs are easy to use. Still trying to figure out how well its performing compared to other browsers. No logo, no icon for the browser, the icon only shows up when you tab the window itself. Very few colors, light blue and little dark blue, keeps it out of the way. It will probably be a little bit while for all the firefox extension developers to build for chrome but whats the hurry!

    Few more things I noticed

    1. Find on the page is pretty standard

    2. Java Script Debugger, Java Script console and the task manager are current developer tools. The task manager is pretty cool it gives basic performance details of each tab

    3. incognito window is pretty cool if you want to surf privately.

    4. Was able to pickup all my firefox bookmarks, cookies etc

    5. Standard firefox style text zoom is available.

    6. You can create application shortcuts for any web page

    Lets see where it goes, more options the merrier.

  11. I dont think this is a “browser” in the conventional sense at all. It is the logical next step in the single-app browser movement except that this has the potential richness to interact with complex web based applications. You could argue that conventional browsers hinder rather than help complex applications and web-applications have been limited in their function (and performance) because of the conventional browser.

    So today Chrome is merely another browser-like UI, but tomorrow it could deliver the complexity we need and will expect from web based delivery of all/most applications to multiple devices.

    Chrome is the cloud’s first prodigious child and the future looks promising already.

  12. So, assuming this thing is a huge success and the browser “becomes the Operating System”, what happens to the ISP’s network? Companies all over are reporting about the new cap on bandwidth that Comcast and Time Warner are trying. Are they now the roadblock to innovation? Is the new Microsoft now Comcast?

  13. Google Chrome is absolute brilliant. What i want to know is in the long term what effect this browser may have to its lovely neighbour Firefox who also hates the “neighbor that always lock the front door” Microsoft.

    If this 2 browsers didn’t find a way to walk on the same direction, one may die and one may prevail, or worse, Microsoft might cut off the competition by introducing completely new IE8 that kinda runs on Viagra (although seems very unlikely, as IE8 only scores 21 on Acid3 while Chrome got 61).

    So what will happen next? I’m 50-70% on decision to move to Chrome, as i’m impressed by just using it for almost 10 minutes or so.