Take a look at the non-search products that Google has launched over the years: Docs, Chrome, Chromebooks, Maps, Android, the list goes on. The intent of these products is clear: get users to increase their web usage so Google can sell ads to them. When internet usage increases, Google’s revenue increases due to its AdWords behemoth.
So successful and efficient is v8, that it has been taken server-side and is used as the core of the event-driven Node.js server.
Firefox has been Chrome’s chief rival in the performance stakes, but last week I noticed that the Mozilla browser had rediscovered an old habit of attempted, and often successful, domination of my machine’s memory; an issue that I thought had been killed off long ago by the Mozilla team. As is tradition, I immediately pinned the blame on that old resource consumer called Flash.
But this was one of the rare occasions where Flash was not responsible for the memory hogging. A glance at Firefox’s about:memory page fingered the culprit immediately: Google+’s +1 button.
As someone that browses Google Reader in the expanded view, this means that for every RSS item that is rendered on my screen during the course of a day — a number in the hundreds, if not thousands — a separate +1 button call is made for each and every story. The end result being that over a quarter of my browser’s total memory usage is taken up by a little-used sharing widget.
Just how much code is used for the +1 button? Here’s the source of it:
It’s messy but comes in at only nine lines.
It is directly because of this memory usage that I have had system crashes over the past couple of weeks. Starting a virtual machine should not be the start of a quickly tightening death spiral that is entered due to the host and guest OSes fighting over the little memory remaining when Google Reader has been open for a long period of time.
So far I have pointed out the problems with Firefox, mainly because it is my primary browser, but in a test of bug replication, I was also able to make Chrome chew up the available memory simply by reading RSS feeds. I will give Chrome some credit for being far more thorough and aggressive than Firefox in its memory clean-up procedures; it took a greater amount of time for Chrome to hit the heights of Firefox, but nevertheless hit them it did.
Solving the memory usage in Chrome was as simple as closing the Reader tab and reopening it, Chrome’s tab-per-process architecture allows it to clean-up itself far better than the single process Firefox can. But this is far from a user-centric solution — why should Jane user have to close her Reader tab simply to launch an application that requires a large amount of memory? It’s simply not acceptable if the web is to become the application platform of the future.
While Reader is the biggest offender in the Google stable of sites, spare a thought for some of the other offenders in memory usage.
Google Analytics has a new look that makes use of Flash to show a useful real-time visualisation of incoming traffic. Unfortunately, leaving that page running for a few hours makes Analytics approach half a gigabyte of memory. And Google+ itself is not lacking in memory requests, nor does Gmail or Google Docs, all three consistently hover between 30 to 50 megabytes each.
Keep in mind that Google is a company that is pushing the Chromebook, its version of the netbook form factor. A quick glance at the model specs shows that Chromebooks currently offer 2 gigabytes of memory. So if a user is browsing RSS, writing up a few documents, checking email and maybe even looking at their site analytics like Google intends them to — it does not leave much memory for the browser itself or for Angry Birds or other flash games to fit into.
The v8 engine may be lightning quick, but running it on the slower Atom processor in a Chromebook with memory limited to 2 gigabytes would not be a pleasant experience.
This is why Google should be extra focused on optimising and reducing the overhead that its sites incur. If a user with a Core i5 laptop is having issues with performance, what must it be like for those who have taken a plunge with the Chromebook?
There is only so long that a vendor can use a quicker platform to outpace the drawbacks of an increase in software bloat — Microsoft turned the corner with Windows 7, Google would do well to learn from that lesson while the platform is still evolving.