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Gnoshing on Chrome

When Google surprised folks by releasing its Chrome browser this week, it caused quite a stir. A lot of the excitement, of course, stems from the unique competitive challenge Google poses to Microsoft.

Make no mistake: Mozilla and Apple have done great things with Firefox and Safari -- literally motivating Redmond to reanimate an IE dev team that had been frozen in carbonite since IE 6 shipped. But those organizations aren't a serious threat to unseat Windows as a dominant platform.

Google, on the other hand, is.

Andrew Brust is chief of new technology at twentysix New York and an RDN contributor. He's been keeping a close eye on Chrome, and the way he sees it, the launch is a tale of two browsers. On the one hand, he said, Chrome is simply a new UI layered on top of the same WebKit engine used to power Safari.

"The various novel features are not hugely innovative or difficult to implement. Even the premise of running each tab in an isolated process is not unique to Chrome; Microsoft is doing the same thing in IE 8," Brust wrote in an e-mail interview.

The real innovation, he said, is the V8 JavaScript engine, which applies just-in-time compilation to enable script code to run as true binary executables on the client. And that's where it gets interesting.

"Since Google's bet in wresting industrial control from Microsoft is on the browser becoming a true application platform, these kinds of changes to the way client-side code executes are pretty crucial," Brust explained. "Really, this means that V8 in Chrome competes with the CLR in Silverlight."

Billy Hoffman, manager of the Web security group at HP, agreed. He said Google enjoyed the benefit of hindsight as it shaped Chrome to emerge as an application platform.

"Browsers were written very quickly in the mid-1990s to display content. They weren't intended to be platforms for running applications. The fact that they can do it is a kludge," Hoffman said. "What I think is exciting about Chrome is they put some stuff in place that allows you to design next-gen applications."

And there, said Brust, is the rub.

"If Google wants real momentum for V8, then they need real tools for V8," Brust wrote. "Most corporate developers like and need rich IDEs to get their work done. Microsoft is, currently, second-to-none in this department, and they recognize how much that helps Windows as a platform."

The failure to win the hearts and minds of developers has killed a lot of Microsoft competitors over the years. Netscape, Apple, IBM...the list is as long as it is distinguished. Can Google succeed in wooing developers where so many others have failed?

You tell me. What does Google need to do to make Chrome a compelling and attractive target for your Web development efforts? E-mail me at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 09/04/2008

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