September 4, 2008
Google Sets Challenge to Microsoft Explorer Chrome Built to Use Web- Based Software
By Miguel Helft
Google's new browser, Chrome, is named for something it mostly lacks.
Among software developers, chrome refers to the menus, buttons and boxes that surround the main window of a program. The Google browser, which was unveiled Tuesday, dispenses with most of these in favor of a stripped-down look that is in keeping with the spare aesthetic of the company's search site.
The clever name sets a more understated tone than those of the browsers Chrome will compete with: Explorer, Safari and Firefox. But in a roundabout way it also hints at the fact that the most ambitious elements of the browser are invisible.
Chrome sharpens Google's already intense competition with Microsoft, the maker of Internet Explorer, by far the most popular browser on the Web. Google hopes that Chrome will loosen Microsoft's grip on the browser market, which it fears Microsoft could leverage to promote its struggling search advertising business at the expense of Google's.
But Google also said that Chrome was created in large part to allow users to interact with increasingly powerful software that runs in a browser window, like Gmail, Google Docs and applications created by other companies.
The company claims Chrome is the first browser built from scratch with such applications in mind.
"I think it is a very basic, fast engine to run Web apps," Sergey Brin, a Google co-founder and its president of technology, said at a news conference at the company's headquarters in Mountain View.
The browser represents a bet that in the next few years the digital lives of computer users will change significantly. Rather than relying on programs that run on personal computers, people will increasingly rely on software that is delivered over the Web from powerful data centers.
Users will store their data on remote servers and be able to access it wherever they are. This approach would make operating systems like Microsoft's Windows much less important.
Microsoft also believes the Web will grow in importance, but it sees the PC remaining at the center of many computing tasks.
By adding speed and new functions to the inner workings of the browser, Chrome will encourage software makers to create increasingly sophisticated programs that can run on the Web, Brin said.
"A lot of things are difficult to do on the Web," he said. Chrome will allow developers to overcome those difficulties, and "you will be able to do more and more online," he added.
Microsoft quickly dismissed Google's claims that Chrome was better suited for applications.
"It is not the first or best browser for Web applications," said Dean Hachamovitch, general manager for Internet Explorer at Microsoft. "It is the first from Google."
Hachamovitch added: "I think that the functionality available in Internet Explorer 8, for what people do every day again and again, is better."
To advance its vision at the expense of Microsoft's, Google has been courting third-party software makers for more than a year. As part of its efforts, Google has created enhancements to Web browsing technology that it has made available to others in an open source format, meaning it can be freely shared and modified.
For instance, last year it unveiled Google Gears, a set of tools meant to allow Web applications like Gmail to continue working even when users are not connected to the Internet - a hurdle that remains one of the major shortcomings of many online applications.
Analysts said the development of Chrome appeared to reflect a decision on Google's part that it needed to take a more direct and active role in furthering Web browsing technology.
"Google needed to make a move to make sure it controls its own destiny," said Peter O'Kelly, an independent analyst.
Chrome forgoes many of the menus and bars that are common in most browsers, and it combines into one the two separate boxes where users normally type Web addresses and search keywords.
As users type, Chrome figures out whether a term represents a search term or a Web site address.
Individual tabs in the browser are designed to work independently, so if a Web page crashes one of them, the rest of the program continues to run.
Google also claims that Chrome is far faster at loading Web pages and running applications, features that it said would persuade programmers that they can rely on browsers to run increasingly complex software.
Google said others are free to use and modify its enhancements in their own browsers.
And while the company made it clear that it hopes to chip away at Microsoft's dominance in the Web browser market, it said it would benefit if all major Internet browsers became better able to run Web applications.
Chrome's success is by no means guaranteed. Many of Google's products and services have received a lot of attention and promotion at the time they were rolled out, but only managed to achieve modest success.
And Chrome's gains, at least initially, may not come at the expense of Internet Explorer, but rather of Firefox, the open source browser managed by Mozilla.
While Internet Explorer comes pre-installed on Windows computers, Firefox, like Chrome, requires people to download it. As such, these two browsers may appeal to a similar set of users who actively seek alternatives to the programs that come with their PCs.
But John Lilly, chief executive of Mozilla, said Chrome would help further define Firefox as the only independent browser dedicated to creating a better Web experience, not furthering the agenda of a single company.
The publicity around Chrome may also encourage people to consider alternatives to their built-in browsers.
Just last week, Google and Mozilla extended for three years an agreement under which Google pays Mozilla to be the default search engine on Firefox.
Lilly said he knew about Chrome when he renewed the agreement with Google. He also said that the extent to which Google would contribute to the open-source community was not yet clear.
"We have yet to see what open source means to Google," he said.
Originally published by The New York Times Media Group.
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