With 160m global users, Chrome shines light on browsers

29 Sep 2011

Brian Rakowski, vice-president, product management, Google Chrome

Google Chrome is a web browser that, in just three short years, has spawned an operating system (OS) and a new genre of browser-based computers.

It is strangely fitting that around the same time as the browser reached its third anniversary and some 160m users worldwide, some of this year’s intake of students at Dublin City University will be kitted out with notebook computers that are running on the Chrome OS.

Browsers are the acceptable face of the internet as we know it. Without them it would be impossible to navigate the web. Think back to the Nineties when entire battles were fought by early proponents like Netscape and Microsoft, with its Internet Explorer (IE) browser.

But, in 2011, it would be interesting to know where browsers are heading in a world where few aspects of our lives are left untouched by the internet, considering that almost every mobile phone has one and soon every TV and car.

Just browsing

Brian Rakowski is Chrome’s vice-president of product management and he has been working on the browser for more than five years, two of which before it debuted publicly.

According to recent research by StatCounter, Chrome has 20pc of the global browser market. Microsoft’s IE has 44pc globally and Mozilla Firefox has 28pc. Rakowski insists that the browser – like all browsers, available for free – is available not solely to win market share but also to help raise the bar in the browser business.

“Part of the mission of Chrome is to make sure that the browser market is healthy overall. There’s lots of good options out there and it’s fair to say that browsers have been getting better.

“In Ireland, it is a pretty healthy market where the three alternatives are being used in good numbers. We believe that if people have options it keeps everybody honest and working hard to provide the best experience possible.

“Chrome began as a pretty vibrant open-source project and now we’re seeing Chrome manifest itself beyond the desktop or notebook.”

Chrome is beginning to appear as a browser on most Android-based tablets and Rakowski sees potential in the OS being an interface that will feature in TVs and cars.

“People are consuming a lot more content on their mobile phones but also on gaming consoles, TVs and inside cars to deliver a user interface using the browser. Mobile is coming on strong and we’re hard at work on the TV platform. The guiding principle we follow is to make sure that the browser will always be useful to people.

“We’re excited about the possibilities of the platform when you consider all the new rich graphics capabilities and software developers keep asking for more.”

Will Chrome appear on tablet computers?

As to the Chromebook generation of notebook computers powered by the Chrome OS, does Rakowski anticipate that we will see Chrome-based tablets any time soon?

“Chromebook began when we were working on the Chrome browser and realised that no one had tried to launch apps within browsers and wondered, if we just need the browser then why do we need other stuff if it can manage the operating system layer. So we started exploring and Chrome OS was created – an OS that just needs to be a browser.

“We’re focused on the notebook form factor because that’s where most people still do their computing.”

I ask Rakowsky about the shape of browsers to come – if they are powerful enough to run a notebook computer, then what else will they be capable of?

“We’re constantly trying to add new things and we believe browsers will be capable of richer graphics, so imagine dragging and dropping things like you do on your computer today like files and folders and doing that within a browser screen.

“Another thing we’re aiming at is enabling software developers to build rich 3D video games within their browser so users can sell or distribute first-class, immersive, arcade-quality 3D games over the internet.”

Rakowski points to other new capabilities that are apparent on Google’s Google+ social network that was opened to the public recently.

“Hangouts is an impressive experience where you can video chat with a whole bunch of people simultaneously within your browser. That’s the kind of thing we’ve been trying to create, or think of Google Instant that gives you search results while you type.

“The objective is anything you can imagine doing on your computer, you can do within your browser.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years