Antitrust

Meanwhile, in a Development That Marshall McLuhan Would Recognize as More Important Than All These Political Conventions Going On, Google Is Releasing a Web Browser…

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Google's highly anticipated web browser, Chrome, is out and earning good-to-mixed reviews:

Google says its new Chrome browser, launched just a week after Microsoft unveiled an updated version of Internet Explorer, is designed to be faster, easier, more stable and more secure in an era when users are increasingly turning to the Web to run complex applications—from watching video to crunching data and running other sophisticated programs that were once housed exclusively within a PC's hard drive.

The new browser has a single box to type in search keywords and Internet addresses. It's designed with "tabs" that access individual Web sites independently, so if one stalls it doesn't crash the others. And like the new version of Microsoft's browser, it offers an "incognito" feature that lets users surf online without storing cookies or a history of which sites they visited.

I'll probably give it a whirl at some point, though I find most of the complaints about Microsoft's products in general overblown and animating from a vague, misplaced animus than actual operational issues. The intertubes world does seem to be going Google's way, as it delivers on an old promise from the early 1990s among some visionaries that computers would be relatively simple machines that worked as gateways to massive online activity, storage, and whatnot. Google's calendars, documents, and (obviously) mail are incredibly powerful and easy to use.

Here's the vision that Google has for its browser:

By developing its own browser, Google can design it to maximize the features of its other online applications, UBS analyst Ben Schachter wrote in a note to investors Tuesday. He suggested the browser may also give Google more data on users' habits and trends, which it can use to deliver more targeted advertising.

More here.

Be careful what you wish for, Google. It's a very different legal context, of course, and a very different world, but tightening the connections between its machines and its software, especially its web browser is what got Microsoft in big trouble with the feds way back when (doesn't the Microsoft antitrust suit seem like it happened in a different…century?). Microsoft's Internet Explorer (new version of that out too!) kicked Netscape's ass (doesn't that seem like two centuries ago?) and has now lost about 20 percent of the market to Firefox. There's clearly a demand for more browser choices and as reason.tv will tell you, competition is good, whether we're talking about coffee shops or computers.

As for Marshall McLuhan: He stressed that the mode of communication was more important than the content being communicated. In that sense, any browser is a minor change from the PC/networked computer revolution, but his thought gets more interesting with every passing year.

NEXT: The Subsidy State

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  1. I was reading part of Google’s animated series about Chrome last night, and it is very interesting. The major problem with open source, however, is that as everybody starts running off in different directions with their own stuff, eventually stuff stops working together.

    This is what mortally wounded Java; the fact that people wrote their own extensions for their own VMs meant that eventually, Java code didn’t always work anywhere there was a VM–which was Java’s mission in the first place.

    I think Chrome will kick some serious ass; but how will Google maintain control?

  2. most of the complaints about Microsoft’s products in general overblown and animating from a vague, misplaced animus than actual operational issues.

    I agreed with this assertion for a long time. Then my mother bought a Vista machine. I’ve been the on-call help desk person for her ever since.

    I tried Chrome last night for a bit. It has worked fine for me so far. I can’t say that I am all that excited about it though. Firefox works well enough.

  3. An corporate meddling has already been uncovered. Today (09/03/2008) Chris Mellor reported on The Register (http://www.theregister.co.uk) about troublesome provision of Chrome’s EULA:

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/09/03/google_chrome_eula_sucks/

    “Astute Reg’ readers have pointed out a Chrome condition of service that effectively lets Google use any of your copyrighted material posted to the web via Chrome without paying you a cent.”

  4. Epi —

    I remember liking the little Google slideshow on how Chrome would be different. Haven’t tried it out yet, but I’m sure like in most OSS projects, a vanilla version will be maintained (most likely by Google) that will remain robust.

  5. The major problem with open source, however, is that as everybody starts running off in different directions with their own stuff, eventually stuff stops working together.

    That would be called freedom.

    Besides, that statement cannot be proved with one example like Java. Just look at every other free software project out there. They have not had the same problems, mainly because they learnt from Sun’s mistake. Just look at Linux. Thousands of projects out there, yet they manage to build operating systems that work for millions of people.

    As for the EULA, I was going to point that out but I was beaten to the punch.

  6. Given Google’s disregard of user privacy with Google Desktop, I keep away from Chrome.

  7. but I’m sure like in most OSS projects, a vanilla version will be maintained (most likely by Google) that will remain robust

    It can’t. If you go to a website designed for “Red Hat Chrome” which has stuff (JavaScript, etc.) that is beyond the scope of regular Chrome, it may well crash the tab in regular Chrome. Sure, Chrome is designed to handle that, but you can forget visiting that page unless you get “Red Hat Chrome”.

    This is an endemic problem in open source.

    That would be called freedom.

    Which hasn’t one fucking thing to do with what I was talking about.

  8. Given Google’s disregard of user privacy with Google Desktop, I keep away from Chrome.

    Given the basic death of privacy online due to everyone tracking everything, I just don’t use computers.

    Oh, wait…

  9. Epi —

    You forget “THE POWER OF THE MARKET!!!” [Drumroll]

    That is to say, there is strong incentive for page-writers to make their pages renderable/compliant with as many users’ platforms as possible. Even Microsoft and Mozilla collaborate these days to make similar protocols and ensure compatibility. If they didn’t, there would be “many furious users”.

    Sure, there will be an occassional page that was created by and for a homebrew or limited distro. But that’s the point of OSS; if the tool to do what you need doesn’t exist, you write it.

  10. I downloaded chrome as soon as it came online and I love it. I think it offers a streamlined combination of the best of IE and Firefox. I also had a tab crash and was able to shut down just that one window and keep going — that alone solves half of my internet frustration!

    I say more power to Google. I’m sure there are and will continue to be bugs and challenges, but in general this is another example of google putting forward-thinking products on the market to challenge competitors to step up their game. Capitalism at its finest.

  11. Just to be clear: I’m not knocking open source. I use Open Office, GIMP, Firefox, and will try Chrome.

    But let’s not pretend it’s without serious problems. Because it’s not.

  12. But let’s not pretend it’s without serious problems. Because it’s not.

    Nothing that has known the touch of a human hand lacks serious problems.

    Things that have known nothing *but* the touch of a human hand are replete with them.

  13. I downloaded Chrome yesterday and took it for a spin, and frankly it’s a big “so what?”. Yawn.

    But wait- you’re telling me that Microsuck has only lost 20% of the market to Firefox? That means that there are large numbers of people out there using IE, despite it being barely functional and hardly secure for a browser.

    most of the complaints about Microsoft’s products in general overblown and animating from a vague, misplaced animus than actual operational issues.

    I disagree. Microsoft’s operating systems are basically functional, but I find that sometimes doing even simple tasks requires scrolling through far too many menus and sub-menus. Windows has gotten progressively more unwieldy and cumbersome. Why is it that the first thing I do in an operating system like Windows is start editing the registry in order to make it more functional and less bloated? Bad design, imho. Additionally, the basic user (yes, even in this year of 2008) probably finds the idea of tinkering with software intimidating, and I have run into problems on friends’ machines that the basic user would never have any idea how to fix unless they dug into some of the areas of Windows that contain settings that can royall fuck your machine is you set them the wrong way.

    Meh. And yet I still use Windows (but not Vista, not yet).

  14. “The intertubes world does seem to be going Google’s way, as it delivers on an old promise from the early 1990s among some visionaries that computers would be relatively simple machines that worked as gateways to massive online activity, storage, and whatnot.”

    Oh, great. Back to the days of sitting in front of an IBM 327X terminal while the guys in the computer room decide what applications I can run and how much data I can store where, and charge me perpetually ongoing fees for the privilege of keeping them in control of what I can do.

  15. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (new version of that out too!) kicked Netscape’s ass

    If by “kicked Netscape’s ass” you mean, requiring Win98 to use IE, then yes.

  16. If by “kicked Netscape’s ass” you mean, requiring Win98 to use IE, then yes.

    Warren, I developed web applications in the late 90’s, and IE5 kicked the ever-living shit out of Netscape. Netscape 4 and on was a fucking pig of an application, taking seconds to load, rendering fonts and tables in a ugly manner, and having myriad other problems.

    Netscape deserved to die.

  17. I find most of the complaints about Microsoft’s products in general overblown and animating from a vague, misplaced animus than actual operational issues.

    Misplaced animus, my ass. Unless you like crashes, reboots, and corrupted, monolithic files that hold all your settings and email.

    Leave me out of the “cloud” too. I’ll keep my own files, thanks.

  18. Warren,

    I’m with Episiarch. IE 5 flat out beat Netscape–much better experience with far less kludge. No idea how MS managed to do that for once–guess they really, really wanted to off Netscape and couldn’t compete on price.

    As far as Google’s (or Microsoft’s) aspirations for all of my applications and data to sit on their servers, well, how about we don’t do it that way? I have several objections.

  19. Apparently no adblocker with Chrome, so I’ll stick with Firefox for now.

  20. Netscape deserved to die.

    So did IE6. Instead it mutated into IE7 and joined in the “let’s throw everything the community has learned about user interface out the window” fun that MS has been having lately. I have no idea if IE7 is any good; my company is still on IE6 but I don’t use it.

  21. One suspects that Google doesn’t like plug-ins like AdBlocker, given Google’s devotion to ad revenue. In fact, isn’t that the main reason it’s jumping into the browser wars, to make a more ad-compliant/behavioral targeting-friendly browser?

    IE7 seems fair, but it isn’t prying me away from Firefox at this point.

  22. Instead it mutated into IE7 and joined in the “let’s throw everything the community has learned about user interface out the window” fun that MS has been having lately.

    IE7 is very, very similar to Firefox in UI. Yes, it has the “where the fuck are my menus?” problem inherent in Office 2007, etc. (just hit the Alt button to get them, by the way), but it’s actually a pretty good tabbed browser. However, Firefox has adblocker, is a little lighter, and seems to handle switching between tabs better, so that’s why I use it.

  23. Jozef (et al),
    with any luck the process that brought us IceWeasel will create a Molybdenum browser that takes care of some of the complaints about Google’s corporate sins.

    As a programmer and web developer I’m decidedly meh about the browser (except that WebKit is above average on standards implementation), but as a user with a programmer and web developer’s knowledge level I’m pretty excited about the sandboxing of tabs and plug-ins, and looking forward to other browser vendors picking up on the idea.

  24. I’d like to assure Nick Gillespie that the widespread hatred of Internet Explorer in the web developer community is well-deserved. Its bizarre responses to perfectly valid and error-free HTML/CSS means I spend much of my time trying to figure out why pages look wrong in IE when they are fine in Firefox, Safari and Opera. IE7 is better than IE6, but that often just complicates things further, because both are still in use, so I have to troubleshoot two different sets of strange behaviors.

  25. I’ve been having problems with Firefox 3.0. Slow, with a lot of crashes. It also seems to have a problem remaining resident even after being “closed”. After having to go to the Task Manager for the 6th time, I downloaded Opera 9.5, which hasn’t given me any problems so far.

  26. Me Engrish gooder.

    /embarrassment

  27. One suspects that Google doesn’t like plug-ins like AdBlocker, given Google’s devotion to ad revenue.

    I believe the reason Chrome is a little buggy and lacks features like ad blocking is that the existence of Chrome was accidentally leaked before Google was ready to release it. So, they said, “Fuck it.”, and decided to make it public yesterday.

  28. But wait- you’re telling me that Microsuck has only lost 20% of the market to Firefox? That means that there are large numbers of people out there using IE, despite it being barely functional and hardly secure for a browser.

    Dude, Netscape still has over 10% share even though it’s no longer supported. Browser users are apparently very inertial.

    BTW, is it just me or does having each tab as a separate instance for each tab just scream “memory hog”. Sure it’s fine for 3 tabs, but what about 10 or 20?

    Misplaced animus, my ass. Unless you like crashes, reboots, and corrupted, monolithic files that hold all your settings and email.

    Yeah, but Apple doesn’t get hate for all their problems with the iPhone.

  29. Yeah, but Apple doesn’t get hate for all their problems with the iPhone.

    Pfft. Sure they do. Ignore the problems for ten years and you’ll even see MS levels of hate.

  30. BTW, is it just me or does having each tab as a separate instance for each tab just scream “memory hog”. Sure it’s fine for 3 tabs, but what about 10 or 20?

    Not really. I assume Chrome would make extensive use of shared libraries so that the fact that each tab is a separate process isn’t that big of a deal. The fact that some badly implemented Flash or Javascript won’t hang/crash the entire browser is a very good reason to go the separate process route.

  31. Mo,
    on the hog issue, the process overhead is probably minuscule compared to the content having to be loaded into memory. It’ll add up eventually, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t actually more responsive because of better paging behavior and whatever optimizations they’ve figured out. With memory being so cheap and so many multi-core machines out there, this is probably the way to go, even without the obvious win of sandboxing.

  32. Actually, The Google Chrome Comic Book does a really good job of explaining the technical issues.

  33. I tried it. Wasn’t impressed. I’ll stick with FF for now. Adblock, fasterfox, ie tab and tab mix plus give me the control I want. Only crashing one tab is the only thing I wish FF had.

  34. “””And like the new version of Microsoft’s browser, it offers an “incognito” feature that lets users surf online without storing cookies or a history of which sites they visited.”””

    Google’s definition of incognito is not letting anyone else but Google see it. Google has a history of storing everything you do.

  35. I heard what you were saying. You – you know nothing of my work.

  36. Google Chrome is very fast, but with firefox i can have a lot of extensions… so… i keep my Fierfox.

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