Google Hopes Chrome Will Help, Not Hurt Firefox


Internet Explorer. Firefox. Safari. Opera. Flock. Now Chrome.

Do we really need another browser?

“I guess the computer industry is a little weird, because we’ve come to expect that one or two browsers are enough,” Brian Rakowski, group product manager at Google, told InternetNews.com. “The analogy I like to use is for buying a car. There are hundreds of cars to choose from out there. People would think it’s strange if there was just one or two models to choose from.”

Rakowski said Google had many ideas bubbling around the company, driven in part by its own wants for other application projects and also stuff people dreamed up on their “Innovation Time Off” period Google gives employees to work on new ideas and projects not directly related to their primary job responsibilities.

But Firefox, an established browser with 20 percent of the market and growing, wasn’t the place to experiment, he said. “We think Mozilla is fantastic, but we wanted to try some more radical things,” he explained. “It would be hard to do with something with millions of users like Firefox, so we wanted to try some things out with out being disruptive to the great product they have.”

Something like Chrome’s multi-process architecture would be a big change to the internals of Firefox, which had its own development cycle. The multi-process architecture has an isolation property for multiple tabs. If a person were to open multiple pages in several tabs and one site, page or tab locked up, it would bring all of a Mozilla or Internet Explorer browser down. In Chrome, only that tab would fail.

Mozilla need not fear

One of the lingering issues is where this leaves Google’s long-standing relationship with The Mozilla Foundation. Google has contributed to the Mozilla project and the agreement with the two for Google to be the default search engine is responsible for 85 percent of Mozilla’s revenue. That deal was recently renewed for another three years.

In an interview with GigaOm, Mozilla Foundation CEO John Lilly said he views Chrome and Google as a competitor. His comments would indicate he had no warning Chrome was about to be released.

Rakowski would not say if Lilly had been told before the news exploded on the wires Tuesday, but he also said Mozilla shouldn’t fear its arrival. “There hadn’t been a lot of work in browsers until Mozilla came along. That’s been great for us,” he said.

“We are looking forward to working even more with Mozilla now that we are open. There is an open source project for this, Chromium.org. We’re hoping by opening the code they can benefit from some of the stuff we’ve done.”

Darin Fisher, tech lead on the project, added he would “absolutely” like to see Chrome code find its way into Mozilla, “and I’m sure we’ll see innovation in them we’ll want to adopt.”

Chrome uses a GNU/BSD license while Mozilla uses a triple license of Mozilla Public License, GNU General Public License (GPL) and GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL). Some elements of Chrome use LGPL because it shares some code from other projects, Fisher explained, and the LGPL and BSD are fairly compatible, so he did not see problems in code sharing.

“We open sourced the entire code base because the entire goal is to benefit the entire Internet and make all browsers better,” he said. “We hope that by entering this space we can contribute something there and it will be great for users.”

Next page: However, users might be concerned

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However, users might be concerned

Almost as soon as Chrome launched, Google had to address concerns about the End User License Agreement, which was found to be rather strict and all-consuming of your data. The company explained it was simply the result of copying an EULA from another product without trimming certain language.

Another issue has come to light, however. CNet first reported that the Omnibox search function is logging entries from users, even if they never actually hit the Enter key to send a search to Google.

This only happens if the users leaves Chrome’s auto-suggest feature on – Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer and Firefox also has this option – and has Google set as the default search provider.

Google said it would retain about two percent of all the data on searches, along with the IP address of the user. This has not sat well in the blogosphere, with users swearing off Chrome due to privacy concerns.

Rakowski said the quickest fix to the problem is to disable the suggestion service in the toolbar, although he said suggestions are valuable to users. “The purpose [of retaining the data] is to make suggestions as accurate as possible. It’s the only way we can provide the suggestion service. We have to get the characters to us to provide the service.”

Another option is to use Chrome’s Incognito mode, which disables caching, cookies and any other information that might leave a trail, but that also disables the search function, too.

What’s in a name?

The name “Chrome” may sound familiar to long-time Internet users. Back in the late 1990s, Microsoft had a project by the same name that was an attempt to bring high-performance, rich graphics to the Web. It wound up being shelved, although the Silverlight project seems to embody many elements of that early vision.

Google has no compunctions about poking Microsoft in the eye. It’s done it more often than a Three Stooges routine, but this isn’t one of those moments. Chrome is the border of the browser, where all the buttons and scroll bars are found. “One of the core tenants of the project was ‘content not chrome’,” explained Rakowski. “It was a tongue in cheek reminder not to put a lot in the interface.”

Full time project

Google has a long history of starting projects and not always finishing them. Gmail, for instance, has been in perpetual beta since its launch in 2004. Other projects get started and then seemingly back-burnered like Google Talk, Google Gears and Google Video.

But Rakowski said this is a long term project at the company. “This is definitely a project we are very focused on,” he said. “We have an excellent team and we’ve gotten nothing but encouragement from every part of the company all the way up to the executive team to push on this. This is not a labs product, this is a real, full-fledged Google product and we’ll be working hard to get it out of beta.”

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