Enterprise Software

Cheat Sheet: Google Chrome

Browser wars - Google style

So Google's invented its own metal now has it?
Erm, no - Chrome is Google's open source web browser that launched around a year ago.

Ah, I'm with you now. So what's a search company doing launching a web browser?
Google has been much more than a search company for a while with the likes of Gmail and its applications suite, Google Apps, but with Chrome it appears to be stepping up to show it has even bigger ambitions.

What do you mean?
Well, the web browser market has long been dominated by Microsoft's Internet Explorer and although there are pretenders to Microsoft's throne - such as Mozilla's Firefox, Apple's Safari and Opera - more than two-thirds of the browser market remains with IE. Google is clearly keen to have a crack at challenging Microsoft's dominance.

What's the browser attraction?
There are two reasons why the browser is interesting to Google - one, it can optimise Chrome to run the apps it produces and therefore theoretically make them more attractive to consumers and two, it can make sure power over the gateway to its services remains in its own hands, not that of its rivals.

After all, the browser is the portal to online apps and services and, according to some industry watchers, will essentially become the operating system of tomorrow as more and more consumers embrace software hosted on the web.

By entering the browser space, Google has a better chance of maintaining or increasing control over the hosted software market that it's increasingly focusing on.

Like other browsers, Chrome's new tab page shows the web pages most recently visited by the user

Chrome's tab page
(Image credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com)

So tell me more about this browser - what stuff can it actually do?
Notable functionality introduced in Chrome's first release included the ability to run each browser tab in its own sandbox, meaning if one webpage malfunctions or has something dodgy done to it, it doesn't bring the whole browser down; and Incognito mode, which allows a user to shield their browsing habits.

In December 2008 Chrome shook off its beta tag with a raft of updates including a revised bookmark manager and privacy changes, including the consolidation of all privacy options into a single dialogue box.

In March this year, Chrome was revamped with speedier performance and new features such as auto-filling of online forms. There were further tweaks for the beta version in August with new themes, a revamped new-tab page and support for HTML 5 video.

More recently, Google announced a stable release of Chrome around a year after its initial launch, which claimed to offer even faster speeds and a redesign of some of its most prominent features, including an updated version of the search-and-address bar known as the Omnibox.

Google has also said it's working on Chrome for Mac OS X and Linux - showing that it isn't restricting its ambitions to Windows - with an early developer version of both already out.

So has all this allowed Chrome to make an impression?
Chrome put the cat among the pigeons almost as soon as it emerged - within a week of it being made available last September, it was downloaded almost two million times in the US - that equates to around 1.4 per cent of all US internet users. For a beta product and an app that practically all computer users already have on their PCs, that's pretty impressive.

Chrome has continued to gain followers and current figures from web analytics company Net Applications shows that while IE continues to dominate with around 67 per cent of the market, Chrome already has 2.8 per cent market share.

While Chrome's not doing too shabbily considering its standing start, the figures show just how far Google has to go before it's a genuine heavyweight in the browser world - after all, it's got a long way to go in order to challenge Firefox, let alone IE.

So what's stopping Google from taking over the browser market?
IE is firmly entrenched as the most popular browser and many users lack the technical know-how or desire to move away from an established and familiar technology.

Dedication to IE is not just a phenomenon limited to home users either - according to a recent silicon.com CIO Jury the majority of IT bosses aren't planning to bring Chrome into their organisations - IE's their default browser and they see no reason to change.

Another issue for Chrome is distribution. Chrome is available as a download from Google but it may need to come to more pre-install agreements like the recently announced deal to pre-load Chrome onto Sony's Vaio laptops to really fuel uptake. In contrast, IE is distributed with copies of Windows, giving it an easy way onto the desktop of almost every computer user out there.

What more can we expect from Chrome?
Google revealed in July that it's developing an operating system based on Chrome that will initially appear on netbooks in the second half of 2010. The OS will access applications via the web and is clearly aimed at people who spend most of their time online.

It's early days but with a Chrome browser already making an impact and a more comprehensive OS in the wings, the next stage of Google's plan to topple the software establishment certainly seems to be gaining momentum.

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