Chrome Is Not A Browser

If you somehow haven’t heard of it, Google’s Chrome is a neat, quick, Acid2-compliant “browser” designed to work with web applications, not web pages.

Chrome certainly looks like a modern browser, with tabs along the top and an address bar and a “Most visited” home screen, it will seem familiar to anyone who’s moved past Internet Explorer 6.

And yet, my Twittersphere has been full of comments like “Nice, but not nice enough to make me drop Firefox/Safari.”

While there are some visual improvements, such as an extremely small “chrome” (the parts of the browser around the page area) footprint, the big changes are “under the hood.” Chrome is built for tabs—each tab is an isolated process; no one tab can take down the whole browser—and is built for JavaScript-heavy “web 2.0” apps—Chrome’s new V8 JavaScript engine executes a full order of magnitude faster than the current browsers, in my experience.

And all of those “under the hood” changes are open source.

Chrome is not a browser.

Chrome is Google’s way of making a point: modern web browsers have not kept up with the web itself.

More and more, the web is becoming an interactive application, and most browsers are not built for it. They display pages, and running applications is an afterthought. While we’ve seen huge improvements in JavaScript execution in the past few years, speed is still a limitation for developers. Applications are also much more likely to crash than static pages (go ahead, just try to crash a browser with just malformed HTML) and isolating tabs will give necessary boosts to speed, stability, and security.

Kris Abel of said it best: “Google’s entire business takes place throughout the internet itself and so they see their interests served regardless of which company takes web browsing to the next level, in fact they see their interests served if all companies do exactly that.”

I’m not switching to Chrome. I doubt very many people will find it useful as a primary browser. I don’t expect many user-interface improvements, like Firefox’s vast add-on library or the accessibility features of Firefox 3, Opera or IE8.

I do expect any future version to have more “under the hood” improvements, and I hope that the makers of Firefox, Opera, Internet Explorer, and any new browsers that spring from this, will re-evaluate their own products and move in this direction.

Because when the browsers get better, the web gets better.