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Chrome: It's not a browser, it's the first web OS

Submitted by yelvington on September 2, 2008 - 10:38am

Sometime today, Google is due to release the first version of Chrome, which is being described as a Web browser. It's not that. It's transcendent. Chrome is a Web operating system.This should be no surprise. Since the earliest days of Netscape, the vision has been to make the Web the center of an applications universe, relegating the "desktop" to the dustbin. Microsoft's decision to "cut off Netscape's air supply" -- which led to a federal antitrust case -- was a reaction to the threat that vision constituted to its PC monopoly.In the years since then, Web browsers have slowly become capable of fairly heavy lifting. But developers of Web-based applications are straining those limits. And Google happens to be one of those developers. Google Mail and Google Docs can give your trusty old Web browser a real backache. If you've ever had your browser freeze because of a Javascript problem, or a Flash component, you've run into that.Then there's the offline-usage problem. Having your data in the Web cloud isn't a good thing if you're disconnected.The vision for Chrome, as documented in a 38-page Web comic, is to create an environment that optimally manages and coordinates Web-based applications. That sounds a lot like the classic definition of an operating system: "An operating system (commonly abbreviated OS and O/S) is the software component of a computer
system that is responsible for the management and coordination of
activities and the sharing of the resources of the computer. The
operating system acts as a host for applications that are run on the machine."And yes, it'll be a browser, too. But the emphasis and the focus has suddenly shifted. Instead of the focus being on displaying Web pages, it'll be on running processes and storing data (fixing the offline-usage problem). Your "desktop" and your data will be both local and remote, automatically synchronized through Gears.Along the way, Chrome will fix some other issues. For example: Why is the address bar at the top of your Web browser, separated from the page? A lot of people don't know how to use the address bar, believe it or not. If you run a Web site, you can look at your own logs to see how many type your site's domain name into a search engine.I'm a big Firefox fan, and I expect to continue to use it for quite some time. But all things must pass, and Chrome -- which will run identically on Mac, Windows and Linux -- is going to be a game-changer.

Comments

Chrome still has to run on something...Windows, Linux, Mac. When Chrome is able to maintain my personal user envirnment (essentially, my "desktop" with all my applications and documents and data) then it will be a step closer to being a Web OS. I expect Chrome to handle the Google apps pretty seamlessly, but I don't see how the non-Google applications fit into this world. I'm talking about stuff written in AIR/Flash and Silverlight and Java. Does it really solve anyone's problems or is it just a strategic move for Google?

I can imagine it working as a complete UI shell, replacing "local desktop" as a metaphor in a Web appliance setting. You would need something like the Linux/X11 stack underneath, but the user would not necessarily be aware of it.

Ok, i have been at this awhile (Apple II 64k memory) and I agree that the Net truly holds potential to be the ultimate OS. We are not there yet, but I do love exploring new paradigm shifts in tech. Paradigm shifts of the magnitude that the promise of Chrome represents. For years I have saved my bookmarks in "the cloud" at Delicious.com (I still wish that Google had bought them instead of Yahoo!) But I still shake my head when my Dual Core Macbook Pro shudders sometimes when using tabs in Safari. Random kernal panics, anyone? Social bookmarking is still the big disconnect in my Google workflow. I (heart) Google for giving me spam-free e-mail, and yes, even for my company e-mail addy's. But I rely on my delicious. I love Google propeller heads for apps like Google docs and the Wiki-like ability to attach e-mails to documents instead of the other way around . . . but I really need to test this Chrome browser in my world (OSX) to see if a "from scratch" browser approach will truly be a game changer again. Robb

I installed Chrome on a Windows PC last night (yes, we still have one) and took a quick look. The Javascript acceleration doesn't have any real affect on most Web browsing. Everything else seemed perfectly normal -- even more so than Safari, which does some strange font-rendering stuff that doesn't feel quite right. There's a one-click option to create a desktop application shortcut for any page you're viewing. I did that with Twitter. The resulting link opens an app-style window, without an address bar. I left that window open and wandered off for half an hour, returned, and found the computer totally locked up. Not sure what that was all about. From a posting elsewhere on the net I gather that the user agent string is like so: "Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US) AppleWebKit/525.13 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/0.2.149.27 Safari/525.13" Holy cow. How did they manage to leave out mentioning Netscape, Cello and Lynx?