Chrome. Another piece in the puzzle

Google just announced Chrome, its own browser based on Webkit, Gears, the V8 VM and a host of features inspired by Opera, Safari and Firefox.
The move will no doubt be considered ‘controversial’ by some, given Google’s dominance of the market, but the company seems to have taken many steps to avoid this: everything in Chrome is expected to be Open Source and the company openly acknowledges its intention to keep things clean, fair and open.
The browser seems to be a combination of Webkit, V8, Gears the Opera thumbnail screen, the restructuring of the browser by separating tabs/windows into processes and coordinating them using a management process. The browser also provides an continuously updating phishing site database courtesy of Google (also found in Firefox) and a ‘Privacy’ mode, similar to that found in Safari for many years now. The Chrome comic (also mirrored here more or less describes what’s new and noteworthy; the technologies involved are not new, neither are the features. What is new is the combination of technologies and the focus of the browser’s designers.

Architecturally speaking…

Chrome takes a somewhat weird approach by choosing processes over threads. The choice is weird because the process switching overhead typically does not justify the benefits with today’s web applications, but simplifies the development of the browser, is more secure and may prove to be a good choice once web applications get more demanding.
Security is an area where Chrome may prove worth using; the process-based approach along with the new security model significantly limit (but do not remove) a number of security threats found on web pages today. Until I get to use it I can’t be certain, but it seems to make things easier and ultimately safer for users.
The use of V8 is certainly going to make things a bit more interesting in terms of Javascript performance. Again, Firefox and Safari are both going to sport extremely fast Javascript engines in the near future so the benefit of Chrome may not last that long. IE8 Javascript performance is not expected to be that great. I doubt we’ll see Spidermonkey or Squirrelfish speeds in IE8.
The other ‘innovative’ features of Chrome are rehashed ideas or evolution of features found on other browsers: the thumbnail screen with the most visited pages, automatic OpenSearch-esque addition of search engines etc..

Spurring Competition

Chrome is welcome, but I wouldn’t be too enthusiastic about it just yet. First I don’t think I’d like Google to control even more of my Web experience, even if the project is open source and the technologies available and compatible with the standard experience.
The browser is more or less bound to spur competition. Hopefully its existence and the choice of Webkit as opposed to Gecko will not translate to diminished investment in the Mozilla foundation by Google. I’d hate to see Firefox disappear or stagnate and although Google extended its investment deal with the Foundation until 2011, I’m not sure that’s consoling enough given that Mozilla practically depends on Google for 85% of its income. Webkit probably stands to win the most from this with both Apple and Google working to improve it; it’s worth it, as it’s technically by far the most advanced web parsing/rendering engine around.
With less than 24 hours left before we can get our hands on Chrome, I can only say that I hope that it’s more like Firefox and less like Google’s existing desktop offerings. Hopefully its introduction will signal the beginning of a new and impressive era of an Open Web.