Burning Chrome

03 September 2008

I’m sure this is the zillionth post on the internet about Google Chrome, but a thought struck me and I’ve not seen it articulated like this yet.

Tom Scott makes an excellent point about one reason for Chrome’s existence in his blog post on the topic:

Google want to offer much richer and, more importantly, faster web applications.

The current browsers, including Firefox, just can’t cut it. JavaScript isn’t fast enough (thereby limiting the UX), browsers are single threaded and they aren’t stable enough. If Google want to challenge Microsoft (or anyone else for that matter) in the desktop space they needed a better platform. Of course others have sought to solve the same problem – notably Adobe with Air and Microsoft with Silverlight. Google’s solution is I think much neater – build an open source browser that supports multithreading, fast JavaScript execution and stuff Google Gears into the back end so it works offline.

I think that’s all very sensible, and very true. But there’s also a much simpler strategy at work – a strategy around their brand.

Google need users on decent, standards-compatible browsers, to make the most of the rich web; they don’t want to be working around IE all the time. Forgetting the advances of a much better, JIT-compiled Javascript engine, they just need people to stop using IE.

The greatest coup Microsoft pulled with Internet Explorer was putting the word “Internet” in its name. It sits there, on the desktop of every new Windows computer, and it says “Internet”. So you click it.

Chrome is a browser from Google – Google, who, for many people, are now the Internet. It’s their first port of call, it’s their homepage; many user-testing surveys comment on users typing URLs straight into Google.

What better way to beat a browser with the word “Internet” in its name – a browser that seemingly can’t be beat no matter how hard we try – than the Internet Company itself making a browser?

5 comments on this entry.

  • Tom Taylor | 3 Sep 2008

    I was thinking exactly the same thing, but I thought Google would have done this earlier with a branded version of Firefox, since they bankroll Firefox almost entirely.

  • James Wallis | 3 Sep 2008

    “Google need users on decent, standards-compatible browsers, to make the most of the rich web”

    If that’s the case then why don’t Google Apps support Opera, which is the most standards-compliant browser available for Windows machines and from which Chrome seems to have borrowed quite a few of its ‘innovations’?

  • Rob | 3 Sep 2008

    The Internet in the name thing is a given, I often talk to people who just assume that is the Internet, and have no idea there is the concept of a browser.

  • Tom Allender | 3 Sep 2008

    IE does connect to FTP servers in addition to HTTP web servers. Making it more than just a web browser (tongue firmly in cheek) it’s an Internet Explorer.

  • Paul Mison | 8 Sep 2008

    Tom Taylor: “I thought Google would have done this earlier with a branded version of Firefox”

    Tom Scott: “they could have worked with Mozilla to add these features to Firefox – instead Google went and built their own browser”

    The problem is, part of what Chrome wants is fewer features; less chrome, less in the distance between the user and the web. It’s hard enough to take away features in a commercial, single-author product- I believe Brent Simmons has been tackling this a lot in his blog recently – and to do so in a big open source project like Firefox strikes me as being an utter waste of time. It probably was easier for Google to start afresh than to try and mould Firefox from outside. (For what it’s worth, I agreed completely with the bits of Tom Scott’s quotes that Tom Armitage expanded on.)

    Now, the next question is why the went with WebKit not Gecko, but for me that’s obvious: WebKit does one thing well, whereas Gecko is itself something of a “platform play”, as it includes the whole XUL infrastructure. (And I should stop here, or at least put this on a site of my own…)