Google: ‘We Want to Make All Browsers Better’

What was the impetus for developing a browser?

As Google employees, we spend most of our time doing everything from requesting vacation time to writing documents in Google Docs to filing expense reports through the web browser. And so we are probably more aware than most people of the opportunities and limits of web browsers generally. It’s not anything to do with animosity towards other browsers but we thought that we could make some unique contributions technologically. We’ve put all the code online now and you can see that we’ve taken some code from Firefox, code from WebKit and added our own things. Even if people don’t use Chrome, we’re hoping that Google is contributing to making all browsers better by making the code open source.

How does Chrome differ to other browsers?

We wanted to give people another option but we didn’t want to make life more difficult for developers. So we didn’t build our own rendering engine. Google Chrome is actually built on top of the WebKit rendering engine. Any web page that works on Safari, which is also a WebKit based browser, should work on Chrome. Beyond that, we wanted to make sure that people could have as fast, as safe and as stable a browsing experience as possible. The bells and whistles that you see in Google Chrome aren’t the type that immediately lend themselves to the eye. For instance, we developed our own JavaScript engine, called V8, which deals with JavaScript in a way that traditional JavaScript engines haven’t. It makes JavaScript more stable and also faster and avoids memory leaks. And we wanted it to be simple. We wanted to make the user interface very clean, we wanted to make it intuitive to use. Whatever powerful computer science is going on behind the scenes, we wanted it to be straightforward for people to use.

Google recently extended its agreement with the Mozilla Foundation to provide a search box within Firefox until 2011. Given that the deal generates more than three-quarters of Mozilla’s revenues, will the release of Chrome affect the relationship at all?

No. Actually, John Lilly, the CEO of Mozilla, put up a blog post about it. We work very closely with the Mozilla Foundation and a lot of our engineers contribute code actively to the Firefox project. Our vision is that there are good things in both Chrome and Firefox and having more choice for consumers is better and it stimulates more innovation. If we’re competing against other people who are coming up with brilliant ideas, that drives our teams to come up with better ideas as well.

In the long-run, does Google have its eye on Internet Explorer’s market share?

I think what would thrill us most is if every browser, Explorer included, got better because of Chrome. There’s no monetisation strategy for Chrome, it’s just about making the web better because, in the long run, that’s better for Google. A stronger web browser makes it easier for people to spend more time online. And if people spend more time online, some of them will do more Google searches. And some of those people will click on more ads and that’s good for us. Chrome doesn’t need a huge market share but we want it to be influential in making the web a better place.

Does Chrome reflect a shift towards a web desktop, where applications and documents are all stored online?

The bigger question about moving to the web desktop and the future of operating systems involves a bit too much crystal ball gazing. At the end of the day, a computer needs an operating system just to process enough information to get to the web. Operating systems do a lot more things as well that the web isn’t actually equipped to do. They’re complementary, certainly today and for the foreseeable future. If somebody gave you a computer with no operating system, you’d say, “This is completely useless.” You need the first step to even get to the second.

To what extent do you see Chrome as a year zero for browsers?

I think year zero for browsers was when Mosaic was released in 1993. We’re still building on a lot of things that have been done in the past. If you look back 10 years, the web pages that you’re using today are very different. And it’s not just because your connection speed is faster. Things like Ajax, which was first implemented in Internet Explorer in 1999 but not really used until 2003 or 2004, and is only gaining wide use now, that’s a big change. Not from a consumer perspective – because, as far as they’re concerned, it’s basically, “Can I use these things that I find on the web?” – but from the perspective of the creativity that web developers can use in building things for the web.

What does Chrome do with users’ data? Should people be concerned about privacy?

It sends the same things that every browser sends to the web and the information you send doesn’t go through Google. Being an open source project, you can actually go to the underlying code and you can see that, in this way, it’s exactly the same as other browsers. You search through the Omnibox but, when you install Chrome, we use the default search engine on your default browser. So, if you’ve been using Windows Live as your search provider on Internet Explorer and you download Chrome, then your search provider in Google Chrome will be Windows Live. And then no information at all goes to Google.

A lot has been made of the Incognito function, which was quickly dubbed the ‘porn mode’? Is that unfair?

There are lots of ways that Incognito mode can be useful. I use it whenever I look at my bank account details because that means that there’s no record of that happening on my computer. It’s no different than what you could do in any browser before, which is go through your session and then delete the history and cookies. It’s just a way to make it easier for people who don’t want to go through a whole bunch of menus to keep their information private, whatever it is. Clearly, most people jump to that conclusion [that it’s designed for viewing adult sites covertly] but I don’t think that was primarily what we were thinking. There are more serious issues with keeping your browsing history private.

Do you anticipate Chrome incorporating Firefox-style add-ons at some point?

We’re passionate Firefox supporters and most Firefox supporters are passionate about their add-ons, so it’s fair to say that we’re looking into it quite seriously. We’re not confirming anything, we never pre-announce. But it’s safe to say that we too are interested in add-ons.

When can we expect Chrome to be available for Mac and Linux?

Mac and Linux are the next big goals and we’re working on them but we don’t have any announcement to make yet.

Apart from search, Google now offers a web browser, email, instant messaging, word processing and more. What’s next?

Mobile phones. We’re very excited about Android. We announced the software last year and we think that mobile is huge. There are three billion mobile phones in the world today and there are only one billion internet connections. So it’s a significantly larger portion of the population and we’re trying to find as many ways as we can to bring them information. It all comes back to democratising access to information, which is the prime motivator in everything we do.


Oliver Hurley
Anthony House, Google UK

Further reading:
Google’s Chrome shines

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Sam Allen

A strategic thinker who ensures that Zeta and all of our clients keep striving forward. A marketing expert addicted to all things digital.