My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

Google Chrome, Part 1: Polish that perspective

Google made a splash on Labour Day when it announced the release of its own browser, Google Chrome.

It's important to note that this is only a beta release, and Google's made it clear that they are going to make major improvements to it. Check out the comic book that explains Google Chrome for techie details. A comic book--how cool is that?

Of course, Google has set a high standard for itself in the past. Reaction to this "beta" has been negative from some people (particularly those less tech-savvy who are underwhelmed by the interface), and Google has itself to blame for ruining the "beta" label with stable services like Gmail. However, it's important to look beyond Google Chrome as just a product and examine its significance to users and the Internet as a whole.

For me, Google Chrome is significant because it is open source. Google has a history of supporting the open source community, but this is the first really big open source Google product. I love Google's other apps, but their proprietary nature has always made me slightly uneasy. By making Google Chrome open source, Google is signalling that it isn't entering the browser business just to make a new competitor for the other good browsers out there already. As the comic book explains, they've built it on a major open source rendering engine (Webkit) and the JavaScript engine they've used is open source and independent of Google Chrome, so other browsers could even incorporate it too.

Google has a history of raising the bar with its inventions. Gmail's initial 2 GB space, free POP access (and later, free IMAP access!), etc., caused other free webmail providers to step up and increase their offerings. I'm hoping that Google Chrome does the same thing to browsers. We're going to see cool new ideas--such as each tab being a separate process to save memory and prevent hanging--and some interesting takes on standard methods--such as the omnibox combining the address bar and search bar.

I love Firefox, and other browsers like Opera and Safari are great. However, all our browsers today are still clinging to the legacies of those that came before them. It looks like Google has stepped back and taken a look at the Big Picture of the World Wide Web, which has evolved at a frightening pace since its inception. The Web is no longer about connecting your computer to a box and slowly accessing text and images from other locations. Nowadays the Web is an interactive, ever-changing media. We have "web applications" instead of "web sites." Some of Google's methodology behind Chrome indicates that they're attempting to turn the browser into something that works well with web applications instead of just a tool for viewing web pages. Because it's open source, other browser makers can incorporate their innovations into their browsers, and they are now challenged to come up with their own.

This is exciting! Even if you aren't a die-hard techie, you can appreciate the fact that we're experiencing a pivotal moment in the development of technology. Interfaces started as a very basic, command-oriented idea. Then came the great era of the graphical user interface: everything is "point and click." But we can still do better. The next step is truly making interfaces intuitive, moving beyond point and click and seeking solutions like natural-language interfaces. All of us already speak at least one language; we shouldn't have to learn another just to operate our computers.

Google Chrome is a stepping stone, even if it doesn't turn out to be the Next Best Thing Since Sliced Bread.

Tomorrow, I'll have my take on the controversy surrounding Google Chrome's Terms of Service.