Google to release own browser: 10 reasons it’s a bad idea

Google’s plans to release its own browser have got everyone jabbering with excitement even before the first beta of the product comes out but as the Google Video debacle proved slapping the Google brand onto something doesn’t automatically make it a good idea. Here’s 10 reasons why Google should not be pushing ahead with Chrome.

The browser as platform model doesn’t work.

Google’s fundamental argument for building its own browser is that “a modern platform for web pages and applications” is needed rather than just a simple browser. But this is hardly a new idea — the notion that the browser could become your main operating environment has been kicking around for over a decade without ever seriously threatening the conventional operating system market.

Sure it’s handy to have browser-based applications for life on the go but between unreliable net connections working on planes and restrictive download limits there’s a clear need for local applications. (Support for Gears although built into Chrome isn’t widespread enough even in Google’s own applications to make that a practical solution at the moment.)

AJAX is not the be-all and end-all.

The emphasis in Chrome is on making AJAX applications run faster with enhanced JavaScript execution a clear focus. But AJAX is not the sole environment in which online applications are run. For practical purposes Chrome will be largely meaningless until support gets added for (at the very least) Java and Flash. (To be fair Silverlight support probably doesn’t matter. Adobe Air? Your guess is as good as mine.)

Minimalism is not the be-all and end-all either.

“Like the classic Google homepage Google Chrome is clean and fast” Google’s official announcement notes. “It gets out of your way and gets you where you want to go.” But there’s a big difference here: the Google homepage is designed to do just one really simple thing: provide a search box. Even the most stripped-back browser needs a lot more than that. I’m all for dumping reams of meaningless buttons but I have a nasty feeling Google might take this a bit too far.

Menus are not the work of Satan.

A particular example of this is the plans to allow applications to launch from Chrome in a so-called ‘chromeless’ window without menus or title bars. My experience in ministering to the tech support needs of non-geeks (translate: friends and relatives) suggests that ditching menus (a familiar element) is very often a dumb idea. (Although in Google’s partial defence Microsoft is tending towards the same stupid approach in most of its current products.)

Some so-called innovations are already available in other browsers.

One of the main hype points for Chrome is that each tab runs as a separate process and thus can be closed if it becomes unstable without having to shut down the whole browser. That’s a potentially useful idea but not a new one; IE8 already has a similar feature.

Chrome takes little account of mobility.

One of the biggest nuisance factors in trying to access browser applications today is that what works well on a big screen doesn’t translate onto a mobile device. While Google has a pretty good track record in customising its sites for mobility and making some applications the initial release of Chrome is defiantly Windows-only; Mac and Linux will follow at an unspecified future date but there’s no word on whether iPhone BlackBerry Symbian or Windows Mobile or in the pipeline. And speaking of unspecified . . .

The future direction isn’t clear.

The news of Chrome leaked over a US holiday weekend (good way to get the coverage in a slow news period guys) and we’ve been promised an initial Windows-only beta. Beyond that it’s not clear whether this will become a major focus for Google (a la Gmail) a side distraction that never amounts to much (a la Page Creator) or a neat idea that doesn’t get enough traction to really matter (Gears again). Why would a developer concentrate on a platform with an uncertain roadmap? (And no a comic book is not a roadmap.)

It’s another pain in the butt for developers.

Having to maintain sites to work in multiple browsers is already a major nuisance. Currently developers have to ensure their sites work OK in Firefox Internet Explorer and Safari as a bare minimum (and that’s not counting the multiple flavours of each browser an especially big pain with IE8’s worthy but painful commitment to standards). Adding Chrome to the list is bound to cause more problems especially in the short term.

There’ll be forked versions a-plenty.

Google has committed to making Chrome open source which is commendable and might result in support for platforms (like mobile phones) that get ignored early on. On the other hand it could also result in dozens of Chrome derivatives kicking around none with a substantial market share but also potentially requiring developer support. Which connects neatly to the final big issue . . .

It won’t be good for Firefox.

Firefox has managed to build its market share substantially over the last few years with most estimates suggesting it has at least 25% of Net users now use it as their main browser. It seems unlikely that it can displace Microsoft’s Internet Explorer from the top slot but the fact that most of the noticeable front-end improvement in IE8 are copied from similar features in Firefox shows the benefits of having a healthy competitor.

Chrome isn’t going to help out there. While Google has been a major backer of Firefox providing funding and coders and apparently plans to remain so adding another competitor to the mix isn’t going to do much for Firefox market . For casual Internet users who go on brand name and manage to look past IE who do you think they’re going to go with: the familiar Google brand name or something named after a lizard?

  • Anon


  • Roy

    With the benefit of 6 years worth of hindsight, you couldn’t have been more wrong.

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