Monday, September 1, 2008

Google Chrome and the Future of Browsers

The big news today in the nerd world is that Google is going to ship an open-source browser, called Google Chrome.

Chrome incorporates some of the same ideas Bram and I wrote about recently: each site runs in its own process, so that memory can be bulk-reclaimed when you navigate away from a domain or close a tab, and it provides a task-manager-like interface that lets you see which site is using all you CPU or RAM. It also uses a more sophisticated Javascript VM called V8, which features precise, incremental garbage collection, and dynamic compilation.

Between these good design ideas and Google's ability (and intention) to test against their enormous, ranked web cache, I think Chrome is pretty much guaranteed to be a substantially better browser than IE, Firefox, and Safari are today.

By treating web apps more like regular applications, Chrome, together with Gears, constitutes a serious bid by Google to grow browsers into decently capable application platforms almost on the scale of operating systems. That means Google is slowly but surely working to erode Microsoft's monopoly. If browsers provide a high-quality, universally popular, OS-independent platform for applications, OS vendors no longer have any particular advantage in the desktop applications market. You don't have to look too far beyond Chrome to see operating systems becoming completely interchangeable commodities, just invisible layers that provide hardware support and enough infrastructure to run a browser and maybe some games.

Maybe Google will finally be able to make good on Marc Andreessen's declaration over a decade ago that the browser would make the operating system irrelevant.

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