James Aylett: Thoughts on Google Chrome

Published at
Tuesday 2nd September, 2008
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First, let's start by saying that having a new web browser on the market to shake things up is never going to be a bad thing; and having something fresh from Ben Goodger is always going to be fun. The other people on the Chrome team sound smart as well, and it's clear that they're trying to solve a problem using a savvy blend of UI nous, applied research, and good software development. All that stuff about testing? Awesome. Oh, and using Scott McCloud for your promo literature is inspired.

But... am I really the only person who disagrees with their fundamental tenet? They claim that the majority of people's use of the web is as applications, not as web pages. I'm sure this is true of people inside Google (if nothing else because it can cause problems when they don't have high uptime), but I'm less than convinced for the general populace. It's certainly not true of me: of the tabs I have open in my browser right now, only seven fall within their broad definition of 'web applications' (actually three are films and one a list of audio clips, both of which I'd actually have watched or listened to by now if they'd instead been presented as something I could shunt onto my iPod; one is the Google Chrome comic itself, which I include as a web application mostly to deride the fact that it requires Javascript to function for absolutely no reason, giving absolutely no benefit to the user), compared to 41 'normal' pages (six items on shopping sites which use little or no Javascript; most of the rest are articles, main pages of sites with lots of articles, blogs or software sites). My remaining two tabs are one site that's down (and I can't remember what it is), and MySpace (which is anybody's guess how to classify). That's around 16% 'web applications', or a mere 6% if people would have done things properly in the first place.

Okay, so - disclaimers. I don't use web mail, which would definitely be an application, and would probably count for a reasonable amount of my usage online if I used it. I do use Facebook, sometimes, but I don't have it open anywhere right now; in fact, I almost never leave Facebook open, except for event information, which in my book is a web page not a web application. However I'm perfectly prepared to admit that I might be unusual. Freakish, even.

Of course, I'll benefit from a faster Javascript engine once they release on the Mac (on Windows I run Firefox with NoScript, so frankly I couldn't care one way or the other); and the process separation of tabs is smart (and, unlike others who've thought of it in the past, they've actually gone to the effort of doing it). But what I really want is genuine, resource-focussed, web-browsing features. Like, I don't know, proper video and audio support in the browser.

What's that you say, Lassie? Little Timmy's done what?.

However it's a huge deal to bring a new browser to market (or even to beta), so congratulations to the Google Chrome team (although... Chrome... really?). As they say, it's open source, so everyone can learn from each other. (Although of course strictly speaking this is Chris diBona wafflecrap, but that's for another post entirely.) But I'm not convinced this is on the critical path between us and jetpacks. Not even little ones.