Posted by: lrrp | September 2, 2008

Google Plunges Into Browser Market

Just days after Microsoft released the second beta of Internet Explorer 8, Google unexpectedly made what could be its largest assault on Redmond to date — the release of its own Web browser.Google today released the first beta of its new browser, which it calls Chrome, and is set to offer preview releases in 100 countries. In so doing, Google hopes to shake up a browser market now dominated by Microsoft’s IE, Mozilla Foundation’s Firefox and to a lesser extent Apple’s Safari.

Chrome takes advantage of WebKit, the open source rendering engine also used in Google’s forthcoming Android platform, which the company is rolling out for mobile handsets. Google is also using components of Mozilla Firefox, among other open source components. The company said it will also share its code with the open source community.

Google said WebKit makes more efficient use of system memory than other Web rendering engines. “We believe we can add value for users and, at the same time, help drive innovation on the Web,” said Sundar Pichai, Google’s vice president of product management and Linus Upson, the company’s engineering director, in a blog posting announcing Chrome.

Google describes Chrome as a browser with a simple interface, in the same model as its search UI. However, the company argues that its open source browser components can run complex Web apps faster and more reliably than others.

Among other things, Google says Chrome isolates each browser tab in its own sandbox, preventing the entire browser from crashing when one page fails, although rivals have taken similar steps to isolate tabs within browsers. Google also says Chrome offers a more powerful JavaScript engine, which it calls V8. According to Google, the V8 JavaScript engine examines the JavaScript source code and instead generates machine code that can run directly on the processor.

Analysts today said Google faces an uphill battle in making a dent in the browser market. “I don’t think there will be a big market impact unless there are radical performance differences,” said Forrester analyst Redwan Iqbal in an e-mail interview. “There is little pain for Chrome to heal.”

That’s not to say it won’t have some impact, he added. “It’s definitely a good show for WebKit and there are some nice ideas for established players to incorporate.”

That said, if Google is able to upset the status quo, it could have a significant impact on Google’s effort to take control of the desktop, added Iqbal’s colleague at Forrester, Jeffrey Hammond.

“If they do gain significant share they have a great opportunity to drive forward with a WebTop that unifies the client computing experience inside a browser, as opposed to a desktop,” Hammond said in the e-mail discussion.

Google took the unconventional approach of describing how Chrome works in an online comic strip, accessible here.

“We want browsers to find that sweet spot between too many features and too few with a clean, simple, and efficient user interface,” the comic strip said.

The strip also illustrates the issue related to asynchronous APIs that rely on single threaded JavaScript sessions, which lock up browsers until the session is complete. Rather than develop a multithreaded browser, Google said it developed Chrome to employ multiple processes, each with its own memory. “We are applying the same kind of process isolation you find in modern operating systems,” Google software engineer Arnaud Weber is portrayed as saying in the comic strip.

It remains to be seen what impact Chrome will have, but Hammond said at the very least he would expect others to borrow from its best ideas.

If Google wants to make a dent in the market with Chrome, it will have to improve its responsiveness to customers, said M. Victor Janulaitis, CEO of Park City, Utah-based Janco Associates Inc., which last month released a study showing a shifting browser market.

Janulaitis said customers cannot get adequate resolutions to problems from Google. “The quality of their interaction with their customers today is poor at best,” he said.

IE Share Continues Decline but How Far Will It Go?

It’s no secret that enterprise use of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is on the decline. The question is, How far is it falling?

One report, issued last month, suggests that IE could account for less than half of all browsers in use by enterprises within the next year. Park City, Utah-based Janco Associates Inc. last month issued a report saying that IE accounts for just 58 percent of browsers in use by those within enterprises, down from 65 percent a year ago. Firefox meanwhile now accounts for 19 percent, up from 16 percent.

“You’re going to continue to see a drop, and I think it will probably level off at 45 percent, said Janco CEO M. Victor Janulaitis, who believes enterprises are shifting more of their desktop users to Firefox and the Google Desktop (the latter is not a browser per se, but he said a number of users cite it as their primary desktop environment).

Whether or not IE will fall that fast will depend on how users react to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8, which is in beta now and due out shortly. The question this week takes a new twist, with Google’s announcement that it is jumping into the fray with its open source browser, called Chrome.

But not everyone sees IE fading so fast. For example, Forrester Research in July found the use of IE in enterprises at a much higher rate — at 77 percent of all browsers — with Firefox accounting for nearly 20 percent. Why the disparity?

Forrester analyst Redwan Iqbal said much of it has to do with the respective audiences. “I believe the disparity is because our sample targets large enterprises,” Iqbal said in an e-mail. “In our set, Japan and especially China have lower IE adoption than the U.S. China may see IE falling below 50 percent by next year.”

Janco says much of its data is pulled on a global basis, notably Asia. Forrester’s is concentrated on North America and Europe, explained Forrester analyst Jeffrey Hammond. “I would also expect that our data, which is reflective of our customer set, is more skewed toward larger organizations,” Hammond said in an e-mail.

The methodologies also differed. Forrester gathered data from 50,000 users logging into its Web site during the first half of this year — Janco, a management consulting firm, also used Web analytics at 10 of its subsidiaries and three partners, representing anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 individual logins per day.

Janco’s international skew probably explains why Netscape Navigator doesn’t show up on Forrester’s report, yet it accounts for more than 11 percent of all browsers used as reported in the Janco study. That’s especially noteworthy because Time Warner Inc.’s AOL subsidiary discontinued support for it at the beginning of this year.

“They just haven’t moved off of it even though there are no updates and support for that product,” Janulaitis said. “People in organizations take a long, long time to change.”

(Redmond Developer News)


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