Smoothwall Firewall project

Wednesday 3 September 2008

Googles new browser shows potential - but is it just the start of something bigger?

I suppose a lot of people were caught off guard with the launch on Monday of Googles' new Chrome internet browser. There have been rumours coming out of California for a while about projects they were working on, a Linux OS being the loudest , outside of the published labs site, but this caught me by surprise.

Unfortunately for someone who only uses Linux on all of his machines, I had to dust off my VMware virtual machine with windows XP , to install this beta. Google have told me that they are working hard on the MAC and the Linux versions and they will be delivered soon, but we shall see. If you go to the download site with a Linux browser you can register your email address to be updated when it is ready. Register for Linux version

The install was very painless, and because every person in the office had downloaded the beta, the install executable was already in the networks proxy cache, so it was almost instantaneously retrieved. Installing it was a matter of closing the browser you originally used to download it, so chrome could grab the bookmarks etc, and that was it. As an aside I would recommend reading the comic book introduction to chrome as it does contain some very interesting information on how the browser fits together. I especially like the sandbox security segregation of each tab, and the fact the whole project is open source, and based on the great work of the KDE developers in the form of Webkit.

The first thing that really hits you is the speed of the browser, especially as I was running this in a virtual machine. As this is an early beta it can only improve over time, and must be a real concern for IE8 which is already getting a reputation as being bloated and slow. The interface is uncluttered, which I liked, and the trusty old combo of Ctrl-T gives you a new tab. These tabs are easily moved around , and can be dragged into new windows if you want. The ability to look at the resources that each tab is using is very handy, just by pressing Shift-Escape. You can then click on the nerd button to have a look in more detail. The chrome configuration options offers the usual settings, including the proxy you use, SSL certificates etc.

There is an incognito tab selection, which means that once you kill that tab, all browsing history gets destroyed, and Google says that you might use this for buying flowers for your loved one, I'm sure there are other uses no doubt.The new single URL bar does indeed work well, with anything you type bringing up previously loaded web pages or Google searches. It also remembers searches you did while on Amazon for instance, so they also will appear when you start typing in the bar.

At the time of righting there didn't appear any easy way to install extensions, RSS feeds or manage bookmarks, like Firefox allows, but I'm sure this is coming. Adobe Flash installed easily enough so I can't imagine the guys at Google have left this out of their plans. You can also set-up web application launchers from the options menu, so you can have one-click access to Gmail for instance. This is very similar to Mozilla prism, so not that ground breaking

This is just a first look, and once it is available on Linux, and there are a decent amount of extensions I will take another look and see how it compares with Firefox 3, which to be fair is still a fantastic browser, and the browser I will continue to use for the foreseeable future.

I do think though this raises some very interesting technical and strategic issues. This browser has to be one of the most powerful and technically advanced yet delivered by anyone, and it would not take that much effort to put a small virtual layer underneath it to offer a full solution for SaaS or webapps. This would then create an environment that does not need a monster Intel PC to run on, and could use an Eeepc 1000 or a Dell 910 Inspiron for instance. Could this be one of the pieces with Google Gears that needed to fall into place for Google to offer an extremely lightweight Operating System with embedded Browser? I for one will be watching this part of the potential development space very closely.

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