Google Working on Browser: What About Mozilla?

Josh Catone
Josh Catone

Update: Windows users can download the browser here.

Google-watching blogger Philipp Lenssen received a package in the mail from Google today containing a 38-page comic book detailing a long rumored side project of theirs: the Google web browser. Lenssen put the entire comic online, and it’s an interesting read. But why is Google planning their own browser?

First, some quick facts (based on the comic):

  • Chrome is a fully open source browser based on Webkit — the same underlying architecture that powers Apple’s Safari and their iPhone browser.
  • It will be multi-threaded, with each process having its own memory and copy of global data structures.
  • Because each tab will run using its own process, crashes or memory leaks or renegade JavaScript theoretically won’t bring down the whole browser — just that tab.
  • It will have an OS-like process manager so you can get a tab-by-tab view of which web apps are hogging your CPU and bandwidth.
  • Google claims that nifty new implementations of how the browser deals with JavaScript (like a built-in JavaScript virtual machine called V8) have significantly increased the speed of web applications.
  • Gears comes pre-loaded — which means a commitment to web standards.
  • Tabs are above the address bar, not below it (as in other modern browsers), meaning more emphasis on the pages you’re viewing. Each tab has its own controls (forward, back, address bar, etc.)
  • The address bar has auto-complete and keyword suggestions baked in.
  • A “new tab page” shows your 9 most visited sites, searches, recently bookmarked sites, and recently closed tabs when you open a new tab.
  • Chrome has a privacy mode (think IE 8’s now infamous InPrivate mode, that the web has unceremoniously dubbed “porn mode”) built-in.
  • Popups are confined to the tab where they originated, unless you want to drag them out to their own window.
  • Web apps can be launched in their own toolbar-less browser window — along with Gears support that sounds a lot like Mozilla Prism territory.
  • Chrome will have built-in phishing protection based on a continually updated list of bad sites.

So why is Google building Chrome? According to the comic, the reason is that they wanted a browser that was built from the ground up with web applications (like the ones that they create) in mind. Google says they want a browser that is “more stable, faster, more secure, [and] with a clean, simple, and efficient user interface.” Apparently Firefox, the open source browser project from Mozilla that Google has backed almost since the start, isn’t any of those things.

Google has been rumored to be working on a browser for at least 4 years, so it’s not really a surprise that they actually are working on one. But why start from scratch with their own offering rather than just put more effort into supporting Mozilla? That’s an especially interesting question considering that last week Google renewed its investment with Mozilla through 2011.

Google says that Chrome is about helping “all browsers become more powerful” by building “a solid foundation for modern web applications,” and hopes that other browser developers — including the Webkit and Mozilla open source projects — will borrow some of the ideas they put out there.

That’s admirable, but this also feels a lot like it fits in with the Google trend of wanting to be in control of everything. Yes, it is an open source project, but it’s one crafted in Google’s image (like Knol is Wikipedia in Google’s image, or like Google Friend Connect is open standards done Google’s way). And as Google Operating system observes, Chrome is actually the long rumored “Google OS.” If the web is the operating system of the future, as many contend, a browser designed specifically with running web applications in mind will be hugely important and potentially have an advantage over other players.

That said, some of the ideas Google presents in their comic are really intriguing so we can’t wait to try it. How about you?

Update: Blogoscoped has screenshots, and Google has an has an official announcement. Word on the street is Windows beta drops tomorrow.