Over the past few months the web browser industry has shifted up a gear. After years of stagnation and limited diversity the market is blossoming, first with Safari opening up to the mass-market of Windows, then Opera 9.5, then Firefox 3 and now Google Chrome. And soon, Internet Explorer 8, which is verging on counting as a real browser (so tacit congratulations for Microsoft are probably in order).
If you look at the features promised by Google Chrome there's precedent for all of them:
- One Box for everything - Opera 9.5 / Firefox 3
- New Tab page - Opera 9.5
- Application shortcuts - Mozilla Prism
- Dynamic tabs - Opera 9.5
- Crash control - Internet Explorer 8
- Incognito mode - Stealther Firefox extension, InPrivate mode in IE8
- Safe browsing - Firefox 2, IE7...
- Instant bookmarks - Firefox 3
- Simpler downloads - Ok, I don't know of a suitable precedent for this.
But that's not really the point. What Google have done is cherry-picked the features to adopt in order to paint a clear picture of the way they see the web developing (and they are probably right, not least because they are pouring money into making it develop that way).
I wrote a webrunner (to borrow terminology from Mozilla) way back in 2001 or thereabouts, embedding the Internet Explorer component CHTMLView in a chromeless frame. The merit of the site-focused approach was obvious then even though my implementation was mainly just an exercise in MFC, and it was merely for a forum I used to frequent. The point is that not all webpages are equal. People don't spend most of their web time "browsing": 90% of the time they are just logged into the same sites and applications. Chrome's user interface, architecture, and selection of features seem better prepared for this than any other browser on the market.
Google Chrome is a leap towards a much more minimal browser that knows you aren't running it so that you can use a browser, you're running it so that you can use websites. This web-centric future has been predicted so often, it comes as a shock to see that this is what it feels like, and that other web browser manufacturers have never taken the initiative to fully deliver on this promise.