After an inadvertent unveiling yesterday, Google today will officially launch a beta of an open source Web browser called Chrome in 100 countries for Windows users only. There’s a comic book explaining the technical aspects, but the net is that Chrome is designed to be a more reliable foundation for Web browsing and running serious applications than today’s Web browsers:
On the surface, we designed a browser window that is streamlined and simple. To most people, it isn’t the browser that matters. It’s only a tool to run the important stuff — the pages, sites and applications that make up the web. Like the classic Google homepage, Google Chrome is clean and fast. It gets out of your way and gets you where you want to go.
I certainly sympathize with the reliability and speed objectives, but have to observe that a good deal of useful Internet Explorer and Firefox functionality is provided by add-ons (both commercial and free) and there will be a dearth of them initially for Chrome. (I am assuming they are permitted.) Still, Chrome seems to be a long term Google project so plug-in availability will surely evolve with time.
The bigger question, of course, is how Chrome will affect Internet Explorer and Firefox. For the former, the competition will undoubtedly spur Microsoft to greater efforts than their sometimes desultory development of IE, since they will rightly view Chrome as yet another attempt by Google to move applications from the Windows client to the Web.
As for Firefox, the folks at Mozilla are taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the obvious competitive threat while proceeding with their normally aggressive development schedule. That surely is the right approach for them since Google is famous for launching numerous ships, many of which gain little headway. Presumably Mozilla’s lucrative advertising deal with Google is still good, but adoption numbers may drop now that Google has a new favorite browser.
Although I’m sure Google would be thrilled if Chrome grabbed a sizable chunk of market share, winning a "browser war" is not its real goal. Its real goal, embedded in Chrome’s open-source code, is to upgrade the capabilities of all browsers so that they can better support (and eventually disappear behind) the applications. The browser may be the medium, but the applications are the message.
Today was the kickoff of the 2007 Apple World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) and as usual Steve Jobs were there to fire up the troops. Ryan Block at Engadget has the play-by-play complete with pictures, but here’s the net:
Gregg Keizer at InformationWeek observes that Despite 100 Million IE 7 Installs, Microsoft’s Browser Still Loses Ground:
“[As of] January 8th, we had the 100 millionth IE7 installation,” said Tony Chor, an IE group program manager, in an entry on the team’s blog. “Even more important than installations is usage. According to WebSideStory (the company we use to measure browser usage), as of this week, over 25% of all visitors to sites in the U.S. were using IE7, making IE7 the second most used browser after IE6.
That’s not particularly surprising considering you have to beat off IE7 with a stick to keep Automatic Updates and Windows Update from installing it. But here’s the bad news:
While Microsoft had the WebSideStory numbers correct, it didn’t tell the whole story, says Geoff Johnston, an analyst with the Web metrics company. “[The growth of IE 7] seems to be exclusively at the expense of IE 6,” says Johnston. “It’s not eating into the Firefox share at all.”
Firefox’s share of the U.S. browser market, says Johnston, is at 14%, and has continued to grow each of the last three months. “I thought that IE 7 might flatten Firefox’s growth, but it’s not taken a hit from IE 7. All the movement there has been internal, from IE 6 users upgrading,” he says.
Another Web metrics vendor, Net Applications, confirmed the switch to IE 7 in its most recent data, and also noted the continued slide of IE overall.
More details by following the link, but while Internet Explorer (of whatever version) isn’t in imminent danger of being replaced by Firefox, there continues to be a slow, steady erosion of share.
Personally, I haven’t upgraded to IE7 because of a lack of time and inclination to inventory all of my browser add-ins and application programs that use the Internet Explorer HTML rendering engine to see if they are compatible. (See this Microsoft Watch article by Joe Wilcox for some less than salutary IE7 experiences.) Of course, this is why businesses take a more leisurely approach to upgrades than home users or the technorati.
However, I guess there’s a bright side as it turns out that Outlook 2007 users won’t have to worry about any oddities of IE7 because Internet Explorer got fired from the job of rendering HTML email as Microsoft takes email design back 5 years:
As I type this post I still can’t believe it. I’m literally stunned. If you haven’t already heard, I’m talking about the recent news that Outlook 2007, released next month, will stop using Internet Explorer to render HTML emails and instead use the crippled Microsoft Word rendering engine.
Hit the links for a list of what is missing, but crippled isn’t too strong a term. Presumably this move was made for security reasons which seems odd just as IE7 arrived waving the flag of improved security.
Mozilla officially released Firefox 2 on Tuesday afternoon, adding security features and a new interface.
Firefox 2 was made available for free download at 2:15 p.m. PDT. Mozilla has set up two download sites for the update, which it said it has optimized for the expected high volume of traffic, at Getfirefox.com and Mozilla.com/firefox.
The revamped Firefox includes a new interface theme and more security protection such as built-in phishing protection. It also has session memory, which, when the browser is re-opened, brings back the set of Web pages that were in use when it was last closed. Changes have also been made in the technology to import RSS feeds, which now offers a feed list view with title and first lines. (Click here for the CNET Review.)
The camp in favor of having a “close” button on each tab has won over the majority who argued against them, Beltzner said. Previously, there was one “close” button at the right of the bar. Clicking on this closed only the one last viewed–but it could be difficult to work out which one this was.
“Google did usability studies with eye-tracking tools and determined that people actually look to the tab first, and it would take longer to determine if they had the right tab and were ready to close it,” Beltzner said. “NASA Ames recently did cognitive modeling for us on tabs. Not only was the ‘close’ button on a tab quicker, but people would be more accurate. They also gave us good data on how wide tabs had to be before people clicked on the wrong one.”
I guess it helps to have friends in high places. The CNET review linked in the quote concludes that Firefox 2 beats IE7 as does the PC World review, while Paul Thurrott dyspeptically calls Firefox 2.0 a “dud.”
Practically, Internet Explorer got back in the browser game with a radically updated IE7 while the changes in Firefox 2.0 were more modest, but neither is going to knock the other out and webmasters will get to deal with users of each for the foreseeable future. Here at hunterstrat.com, I’m already getting 12% Firefox 2 users and 26% IE7 users.