Chrome is coming – why should we care?

Chris Davies - Sep 2, 2008

Google have already admitted that they pulled the trigger a little early on the Chrome announcement yesterday; it was meant to hit the headlines today, in fact.  As of writing, the site still isn’t live, which means all we have to go on is the Chrome comic and some background understanding of Google’s webapp offerings.

Chrome is Google’s next step toward making webapps behave – or users treat them – more like traditional desktop apps.  Address bar and window-free apps are just the surface gloss; what’s key to Chrome’s likely success is its native inclusion of Google Gears and the custom JavaScript app, V8, that the company has had a special team working on. 

Gears, which has been available as a separate download for some time now, allows users to run online applications without a network connection, or alternatively speed up webapps by caching data to reduce the amount of data transferred to and from the server. 

JavaScript V8, meanwhile, promises both improved performance and, more importantly perhaps, stability.  Chrome teases out individual tabs into separate processes, each referring to the JavaScript and plug-ins – themselves separate processes again.  If an individual tab crashes, it doesn’t bring the whole system down.  In fact, in the Google Chrome comic, they themselves refer to this as more similar to how your OS handles individual programs:

“We’re applying the same kind of process isolation you find in modern operating systems” Arnaud Weber, Software Engineer, Google

Together, they add up to improved and more stable webapp performance, with better memory management that, at this early stage, sounds ideal for the current crop of low-powered devices such as netbooks.  Webapps, with minimal (or no) local footprint, make good sense for machines like the ASUS Eee PC or Acer Aspire One, where onboard storage is minimal.  However users still want performance and, considering their connection speed could vary wildly from a tethered cellphone to WiFi, as little network dependence as possible.

It won’t just be Google’s apps which benefit from the streamlined JavaScript V8 engine, however; all online software will (hopefully) see a speed boost.  That could be enough to make Chrome the browser of choice for mobile devices, certainly, and plenty of desktop users who can’t afford, don’t need or would rather not buy into standalone software.

The software Google release today will be early Beta, certainly, and too early to realistically judge performance.  Nonetheless, it could begin to redefine what users expect from their browsers.

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