Google Chrome – The Conspiracy

Google Chrome, the most recent browser to join the fray. Is Chrome just a browser though?

I have to say I don’t think so. The release of Chrome reinforces my views that Google are directly targeting the operating system and integrated applications market. Be warned that the below is entirely my thoughts and theories based on my own observations and are not in any particular order but hopefully make sense.

Think about IT, Google already have a suite of applications and the support of Sun who tried to push cloud computing a while back (but failed). Now this suite of applications runs through the browser, not as feature rich as their counterparts like Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, Open Office and so on, but with enough features for most general consumers.

If you can run most applications through the browser, then the operating system can be reduced. At this stage, the only things that you really need to run on a local computer are graphic or data intense programs, such as games, video processing, 3D rendering etc, however, ultimately as bandwidth increases, these could potentially be run over the internet as well, further reducing the operating system. All you would need is to boot into the browser. It’s already built in to Windows and OS X, Explorer and Finder. Of course these are limited as far as internet activity goes, but you get the idea.

Google have been working on Android, a mobile operating system, now a computer operating system would be much more of a challenge to make immediately viable, despite the huge amount of BSD and linux distributions around that could be used as a basis. A browser is a logical step in this direction.

Separating tab processes, if you are running one application, you don’t want another to crash. When you are running them in a browser this doesn’t change, separating the processes makes for a nice stepping stone into what could potentially be an operating system.

Now, here’s another thought, Google pours how much money into the Mozilla Foundation, so why use Webkit as the layout engine for Chrome instead of Gecko? Afterall, Gecko is the one that Google have been funding so extensively.

Did you know that Webkit is a KHTML fork that was started by Apple? Webkit is also a more advanced layout engine than Gecko, the features that are available in it that are used in the iPhone and are slowly seeping into desktop Safari virtually do away with the need for plugins like Flash and Silverlight (not entirely, but it is getting there). Webkit is also funded by Nokia for use in the S60 browser. So, with two mobile browsers using it as the layout engine where none currently use the Gecko engine (that I’m aware of), Webkit is a tried and true engine for mobile devices.

So, Webkit has established mobile support from both one of the largest mobile manufacturers and from Apple for both the iPhone and desktop versions of Safari. While Opera and their Presto layout engine is the best for Windows Mobile devices, it is not open source and despite its quality, it doesn’t have the budgets of Nokia and Apple pushing it’s development. Webkit makes sense to use for the layout engine on Android, and subsequently for Chrome.

So, we have 3 mobile operating system producers utilizing Webkit, I don’t know the exact market share figures, but Nokia are the dominant mobile manufacturer and almost all of their phones use the S60 operating system. Apple’s iPhone has snapped up a large share of the market as well considering their inexperience in this area and Android has the potential to end up very widespread as well, all using variants of the same layout engine. There is a huge amount of potential here for Google to extend their mobile advertising, not just on Android phones.

Migrate to the desktop segment and what do you have? Safari is on every Apple computer and is also available on Windows, Chrome is supposedly going to be available on Windows, Mac and Linux. Then there are a number of other smaller browsers using Webkit. With the distribution of Safari and the potential distribution of Chrome, it would be entirely possible for Google to start gradually offering features of their applications that are only fully available on a Webkit based browser, and then ultimately, only on Chrome.

Doing something like this would be a risky path and would have to be done very slowly and gradually or it would alienate millions of users, but there is potential there for it.

Now, the Google CEO – Eric Schmidt – is also on the Apple Board of Directors, so he has interests in furthering both companies. So it makes sense as well, that Google is going to benefit Apple and Apple are going to benefit Google, at least to some degree.

Lets head in a slightly different direction, I was reading Simon Griffiths thoughts on Chrome today and came across a new development from Mozilla that I hadn’t heard of before, Ubiquity for Firefox.

Ubiquity takes a variety of Google Applications and takes them out of Google’s interface to integrate them into a quick and easy to use system. Simon explained it very well:

“…you open up a dialogue box with a keystroke and then type a command. This allows you access to functionality in a few keystrokes. With Ubiquity you can add maps into gmail, add calendar items and much more all by typing a few keys.”

If Google controls the interface, they control the advertising. If ubiquity combines many of Googles applications without the advertising, this represents a possible exposure reduction of many, many millions, the more it expands in popularity, the greater the reduction.

Since they control Chrome, there is the potential for Google to integrate all of their applications into it in a similar way to Ubiquity, and thus allowing them to retain their advertising. So as Simon suggested, Chrome is in direct competition with Mozilla’s Ubiquity.

Anyhow, just some thoughts on everything happening in this area at the moment. What do you think? Are Google going too far? Not far enough? Perhaps getting too power hungry?