September 7, 2008

A Bright and Shiny Browser

Google has never shied away from a computing challenge. Searching the Web is synonymous with Google. For many people, E-mail is synonymous with Gmail. In fact, that is one of the things that makes Google worrisome when it comes to guaranteeing security and protecting privacy.

Now, Google is taking on the very foundation of its own existence - the Web browser. On Tuesday, it released a beta version of its new browser, Chrome, a word that programmers use to describe the frame of a browser window.

It's tempting to think of Chrome in strictly competitive terms, as a challenge to Internet Explorer, the dominant browser from Microsoft.

But that is too narrow a take. Google is in the business of distributing advertising to billboards (the browser on your computer screen) and with Chrome it is trying to build a better billboard.

From a technological standpoint, it is a browser that uses fewer of your computer's resources, is less likely to break down in use and is constructed to a shared, compatible standard. Google says it will offer its innovations in Chrome to other developers without proprietary restrictions. And why not? Anything that is good for the speed, dependability and stability of browsers has to be good for Google (and incidentally for ordinary users).

We would try to explain how Chrome differs from Explorer and other browsers like Firefox and Apple's Safari. But Google has already done it with a comic book drawn by Scott McCloud and called "Google Chrome: Behind the Open Source Browser Project." It says a lot about how browsers work, some of it in language and pictures you can understand. When it deviates too far into geek-speak, focus on the words in capital letters.

If Chrome manages to do its job as well as this comic book does, then the browser world is in for a shake-up. If all instructional and technical manuals were written as well as this Web comic, the electronic world would be a more intelligible place.

Originally published by The New York Times Media Group.

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