In advance of its tenth anniversary as a company, Google this week launched a beta version of its first Web browser, Chrome — a move widely perceived as an assault on Microsoft’s dominant Internet Explorer browser. But Google’s motivation for developing its own browser may be more a response to cross-browser runtime platforms like Flash and Silverlight than to other Web browsers.
While the company’s launch event touted many of Chrome’s new features — its streamlined “chrome free” look, integrated search and navigation, multi-process architecture — a principal goal underlying Google’s entrance into the browser market is to cement the browser’s role as a platform for rich Internet applications (RIAs). A number of commentators — including Ryan Stewart, Nick Carr, and Wharton’s Kevin Werbach — noted that Google’s concern isn’t on competing in the browser market per se but, rather, in positioning the Web browser has a platform for the next generation of Web-based applications. As Sundar Pichai, a Google vice president of product management, wrote on the company’s blog, “We realized that the web had evolved from mainly simple text pages to rich, interactive applications and that we needed to completely rethink the browser.”
At the launch event for Chrome, Pichai stressed that Google chose WebKit as the HTML engine for its compatibility with existing web sites. “Wanted to make sure we didn’t create a headache for developers,” Pichai explained in response to concerns about browser compatibility. “If your site works in Safari, it works in Chrome” since the two browsers use the same WebKit HTML engine
I’ve only used Chrome intermittently for a few days. While I’m impressed with its speed, its uncluttered interface, and convenient additions like the Omnibox and the handy start page, I’ve also encountered a number of compatibility issues. Adding a new application to my Facebook profile — which worked fine in Firefox — failed without any notice in Chrome. When Microsoft’s web site asked whether I wanted to complete a survey before continuing, Chrome wouldn’t let me move on to the next page.