Monday, September 01, 2008, 12:45 pm PT (03:45 pm ET)
Google planning new Chrome browser based on WebKitA Google blogger has published an illustrated document outlining Google Chrome, a new web browser project based on Apple's WebKit open source rendering engine.
The blogger says Google mailed out a description of the new project's features in the form of a 38-page comic book, illustrated by artist Scott McCloud of Understanding Comics and distributed under a Creative Commons license.
Most of Google's existing products are web-base applications. A Google browser has been long rumored, in part to keep Microsoft from controlling all access to the browser platform across Windows PCs. Google has been financing Mozilla Firefox development with the same intention.
While the www.google.com/chrome URL is referenced in the report as not being valid yet, Google has already released developer tools for Gears, an effort to improve web applications by providing features missing in today's browsers, including a database engine and support for local storage and offline applications. Chrome is simply, well, the chrome on the gears.
Chrome and Webkit
Chrome user interface
By delivering its own browser front end, Google can focus on differentiated user interface features. The illustrated report depicts a browser with tabs on top of the window rather than inline, a violation of both Mac and Windows user interface guidelines. Apple, Adobe, and Microsoft have all taken similar exceptions to established guidelines in order to make their apps stand out. In Google's case, the top tabs are intended to make it easier and more obvious how to detach tabs to create freestanding windows.
A separate example cited in the report is a browser address bar with auto completion called "omnibox,' designed to respond to natural language search words that match previously visited pages, rather than force the user to enter semantically correct URLs.
Another user interface idea presented in the illustrated guide is Chrome's default page, which shows the user thumbnails of sites they have previously visited or bookmarked and recent searches (below), a feature similar to one in the Opera browser.
Like Safari's Private Browsing introduced in 2005's Tiger and Internet Explorer 8's new InPrivate mode, Google's Chrome will support 'incognito' windows and tabs where the browser won't save any history, cookies, or leave other private tracks. And similar to an upcoming feature in Safari 4, Chrome will be able to launch web applications as a freestanding desktop app lacking the usual browser address and tool bars.
Targeting responsiveness and bloat
That design would chow down more memory initially, but provide much better response time and independence between web pages and applications loaded at once. Closing a tab would also immediately release its memory allocation, rather than resulting in a fragmented allocation that affects the entire browser.
The document cites Google engineer Brett Wilson as explaining, "so as you browse, we're creating and destroying processes all the time. If there's a crazy memory leak it won't affect you for that long because you'll probably close the tab at some point and get that memory back."
Chrome and web plugins
Each tab is also sandboxed for security, although any web plugins, such as Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight, will not respect this security model by design, because the existing web plugin model automatically gives them privileges on the same level or higher than the browser.
The document notes that "with some small changes on the part of plugin makers, we can get them to run at a lower privilege which would be much much safer." It also notes that Chrome will present each plugin in the browser's task manager so users are aware of which plugins are hogging available RAM, "placing blame where blame belongs," a shot clearly fired toward fat third-party plugins.
While the document carefully avoided any mention of Flash, it did depict the challenge of isolating video within YouTube, a task that is built on top of the Flash player plugin.
Popups, malware, and bugs
The new browser will also get updated info on malware sites to help rapidly warn users of phishing attacks that have been discovered (phishing schemes usually get taken down with a day or a few days). Google will also be exposing this system as a public API other browsers can use.
In order to track down bugs and problems with various web sites, the document outlined Google's ability to automate testing of new builds against tens of thousands of websites within minutes. It also notes that Google's own Page Rank information will be used to direct testing toward the popular sites people actually use regularly.
By offering Chrome, Gears, V8 and other components as open source, Google hopes to bring all web browsers up to modern standards capable of running the kinds of web apps the company is delivering now and laying a foundation for a future of even more sophisticated apps that run on the web platform using interoperable standards anyone can implement.
Google's Chrome will give a huge push behind the efforts of Firefox, Opera, and Safari to create a more open, interoperable web enabled to run a sophisticated new generation of web client server apps.
The entire comic book is available at Google on Google Chrome comic book
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