Chromefirexplorer girds loins against rich and closed
The future is open
Mountain View Oompa Loompas continue to say that replacing Firefox and Internet Explorer with Google-controlled software is not their primary aim. "We just want to push the web platform forward," Chrome product manager Brian Rakowski told developers yesterday at Add-on-Con, a Silicon Valley mini-conference dedicated to, well, add-ons.
But Rakowski admits that market share is at least on the radar. "As a team, would we like to see more users on Chrome?" he asks himself. "Of course. There is a healthy rivalry with Mozilla and Internet Explorer. But from the chief Google perspective, we just want the web to get better."
Yesterday afternoon, during a panel discussion at Mountain View's Computer History Museum, Rakowski joined Microsoft IE evangelist Joshua Allen and Mozilla VP of engineering Mike Shaver in discussing "the future of the web browser." Add-on-Con organizers also invited two other browser-makers of note, Opera and Apple. But Opera couldn't make the intercontinental flight from Norway. And Apple couldn't make the eight-minute drive from Cupertino.
With Radkowski pushing the Chrome party line, verbal fireworks were in (very) short supply. At one point, a developer asked the trio if they would pose for a group-hug photo op. [You can't make this stuff up. - Ed.] All three browser makers - including the man from Redmond - agree that the future of the web browser is openness, not rich-but-closed app platforms along the lines of Adobe Flash, Sun's JavaFX, and Microsoft's very own Silverlight.
"Yes, we have seen the web platform move very slowly," Rakowski said. "At Google, this has made us want to tear of hair out, as we try to work on rich web applications. It's hard to make cool stuff happen when there's not a lot of capabilities there in the browser...But the web is catching up, people are trying to make more things possible, in an open way."
Naturally, he cited Google Gears as a prime example. And - just as naturally - he hailed Mozilla's ongoing efforts to "get more stuff into the browser platform faster." Rakowski friendly-rival Mike Shaver believes that in the end, the open mindset will bring more change than the closed. "Openness and interoperability create fierce competition," were his all-too-predictable words. "Innovation is spurred by openness. People can change from Firefox to Chrome to IE to Safari and still use their web apps. They can't switch from Flash to Silverlight.
"Whereas we used to see not a lot of motion on improving browser technology, we're now seeing the exact opposite. We're seeing video. We're seeing parallel computing."
Joshua Allen points to the rise of the browser debug tool as evidence the platform is growing up. Of course, as we await IE8, Allen's own company is still in the debug dark ages. But he seemed to thank Mozilla for giving Redmond a kick in the pants. "The stories of the threat to the web are highly overrated," he said. "With things like Firebug - which came on not that long ago - we're starting to see really good tooling for the web. Things are getting much better, and they will continue to do so."
But like so many others, Allen still questions whether web openness will succeed in the mobile world. "On the internet, there's no central party that controls the bandwidth," he said. "With the cell phone, your carrier owns that physical infrastructure...Mobile phones are still walled gardens. We need to push for net-neutrality legislation to make sure that the carriers allow competing services."
Following Google's puppet mastery in the 700-MHz wireless auction and the debut of its open-source mobile stack, Rakowski has a much rosier view. "Every sign I've seen over the last couple years has been towards more-open mobile platforms," he said. "That seems like the wave of the future to me. Just look at what browsers are now able to do on the iPhone and even the BlackBerry."
And those two platforms are less open than others.
Of course, for all its openness, the very first Googlephone shamelessly pushes Googleapps down the user's gullet. But Google is merely interested in making the web a happier place - not raking in billions upon billions in additional ad revenue. According to Google. ®