Sunday, September 21, 2008

Google Chrome: a browser or a runtime environment?

Google Chrome has received a lot of press from the date of its release, even on mainstream media: from a technological point of view there are several interesting innovations that undoubtedly will "inspire" similar solutions in other browsers. Amongst them those to deserve a mention are the "multiprocess" architecture (which is a very interesting - yet nerdy - topic and would deserve a post of its own), the high performance JavaScript runtime (on which I already commented here), the Gears plug-in and development framework (also available for Safari on Mac OS X) plus some neat Human Interface solutions like the new "blank page" with the most visited sites, a simple but really effective concept.

Everything is really interesting especially for hackers but I doubt that these single innovations in themselves will make the average Internet user go wild. It may be interesting therefore to think for a moment about the whys behind this move by Google, leaving conspiracy theories aside. 

I do really think that Chrome shouldn't simply be seen as a browser but more fully as a runtime environment. Google is providing first class services that are becoming crucial for the life of people. Mail, calendaring, document management and editing, photo sharing, blogging, web traffic analysis, maps, web application hosting, web advertising management, not to mention Internet searches, for which the Mountain View company name has become a verb in the English dictionary ("To Google"), are just a subset of the services Google provides, services that have become essential, if not strategical, for the life and business of million of users worldwide.

These services are becoming more and more sophisticated and powerful, so much to become real contenders to "desktop" based applications. At the same time broadband Internet connections have become faster and widely available, even for mobile users. The motto "The Network is the Computer" by Sun Microsystems has become a reality these days. But every computer to be really useful needs first-class software. 

Every browser can be seen as a runtime environment for web based applications. But, as Microsoft and Apple know well, you can really guarantee the best possible experience to users if you have the chance to control "both" the runtime environment "and" the software that runs on top of it. I think that the Google move behind Chrome should be read this way. Web based applications must be fully accessible to everyone, perfectly compatible with the most common browsers (Internet Explorer, like it or not is the most used browser in the world) and fully compliant to W3C web standards. But of course Google people can't control how their web applications run on these browsers: they could have simply advocate their cause on open source projects (Firefox and WebKit to start with) but by creating Chrome they are indirectly pushing others to follow on their path.

Microsoft has fully acknowledged the threat of Google web applications and is trying hard to answer with various on-line services (Microsoft Office Live Workspace, Live Mesh) that promise to run in a multi-platform/browser fashion (Windows and Mac OS X - but not Linux apparently -, IE and Firefox). Another Internet war is on the horizon...


Qingnan Liu said...

I absolutely agree with your. Chrome app can become a full blown desktop app. With the trend of new Android Runtime, Google will make the Chrome runtime and Android runtime to the next JRE. No wonder Oracle start to panic now.

lucadex said...

Thanks for your comment!