updated 01:10 am EDT, Tue September 2, 2008
Google Chrome browser
Google this weekend accidentaly leaked details -- via an online comic book -- on its upcoming cross-platform open-source browser: Google Chrome -- which it claims will deliver a streamlined and improved interface along with performance improvements and security enhancements; the new browser is based on both Apple's Webkit, the core of the Safari browser, and Firefox, the rapidly growing alternative browser, but will square off against Microsoft's Internet Explorer, which dominates the internet, but continues to play catch up with security flaws and compatibility. The beta version of Google Chrome, only for for PCs initially, is expected to ship on Tuesday in more than 100 countries, while Mac and Linux versions are in development.
"On the surface, we designed a browser window that is streamlined and simple. To most people, it isn't the browser that matters. It's only a tool to run the important stuff -- the pages, sites and applications that make up the web," the company wrote in its blog. "Like the classic Google homepage, Google Chrome is clean and fast. It gets out of your way and gets you where you want to go."
The company claims that it separates each tab or visited website in its own "sandbox," a private secure environment that keeps information from other sites: it not only protects privacy, but also offers better stability and performance, the search giant claimed. The user interface will allow a tab to be created "incognito," a privacy mode that will not log any of the activity onto the computer, cookies are wiped out and history is not saved when it is closed.
Another benefit of sandboxing, according to the comic, is that the rights for each process are reduced, not allowing malware to install itself on a computer or affect what is happening in another tab. According to the engineers, the processes "can compute but they can't write files to your hard drive or read files from sensitive areas like your documents or desktop." The user must give explicit permission for high level access.
Google's comic pointed out that current browsers can be affected by fragmented memory, pushing the browser closer to a crash as the user opens new tabs and closes old tabs, even though they might only have a few open at one time. Without the ability to separate the processes, if one thing goes wrong, the whole browser is liable to crash. Chrome's multi-process approach will allow each tab to run individual independent processes- if one tab fails, the browser recognizes the problem, ends the process in that tab, but the others retain function.
Even within one tab, when the user switches from site to site, Chrome will completely switch the process and reclaim the memory. If a slow-down occurs, a task manager can be opened to see exactly what pages or even what plugins are hogging memory, CPU power, or bandwidth.
Google also hoped that its efforts will begin to address the lingering performance and compatibility issues that face a wide variety of cross-platform browsers by using an automatic testing -- an internet "bot" -- to check and test millions of the most popular pages each week (based on Google PageRank).
During the testing thus far, Google has used Webkit to run page layout tests. When the project began it was only passing 23 percent of the tests. "Moving from there to 99 percent has been a fun challenge and an interesting example of test-driven design" said Pam Greene, one of the project software engineers.
The choice of Apple's Webkit was no coincidence. Google claimed they were attracted to the speed potential. When the Chrome team consulted the Android engineers and asked them why they chose Webkit, they responded "it uses memory efficiently, was easily adapted to embedded devices, and it was easy for new browser developers to learn to make the code base work."
Much like Apple did with Safari on the iPhone, Google will use Chrome as part of its Android mobile platform and hopes that its use of Google Gears, a plug-in that extends the standard browser experience, will help developers deliver native-app like performance over the Web with cross-platform compatibility.