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Once upon a time…. Firefox

A couple of months ago, my son was struggling with the old laptop from his elder sister. Old laptop, running the same original Vista since 4 years…. you know what I am talking about, right? Bad, very bad perfomances. The kind of performances where you cannot event enjoy surfing the web….

The teen-ager was not so hot on the fact that his old IT daddy would try to fix something…
…but, once he asked me an opinion on something he was doing and I saw something unexpected on his laptop: “Hey, are you running Chrome?“.

Yes, dad, it is the only way I can use this old PC“.

My son, for my great disillusion, is not at all a “tech guy”. He just uses the PC, without asking too many questions about how it really works. Internet, MSN, Facebook, Google, Wikipedia….. He just “has an hotmail mail account” (despite I have a domain name and an hosted IMAP server… in my naivety I thought he would have found cool to have an email address containing his family name after the “@”….).

As a person with a minimum of “computer culture”, I would have thought to Firefox first…. Why? because …
…Because…
…Because….
ah yes, because it is cool and it has a lot of handy exstensions (could I leave without Foxear, Scribefire, Tmmy and Session Manager ?)

Indeed, I have Chrome as well (and I wrote a long article on it and some other posts). But I do not use as my daily gateway to the Internet world.

I just use Chrome via the “Chrome Applications”. For instance I created one for BluePages so that, when I need to find the BP record for a collegue, I quickly fire the Chrome BluePages icon… et voilà, I quickly get to where I need.

So, I have Chrome and I seldomly use it. I would have never thought to get Chrome as THE ALTERNATIVE to IE !

But my son, who “just uses” the PC… well he installed Chrome and uses it everyday (by the way, at Christmas he got a brand new laptop and, guess what, he still uses Chrome even if the PC is very very fast…)

Why ?
Well, at the end because of the same reason I created my Chrome Bluepages application: speed!

I (the father, the “pseudo-geek” or the “once-the-geek”) use Firefox because I like the extensions and because I got used to it. Actually it was “cool” in 2003 when I started using it and, in reality, the only extension I could not avoid is Foxear. But, sort of “I choose Firefox because I like the container in which I play“.

I think my son does not care about the container. He cares about the content. And the quickest way to get to the content is Chrome. Full stop.

I thought to this post when I read this article : “Why Firefox is doomed“. I do not know if firefox is really “doomed”…

…but I think Firefox lost the train (or, at least, one train). It lost the possibility to establish a new pattern for accessing the web. I am not that good to validate the merit of a given technology, but I think that XUL could have become something closer to RIA and Firefox the tool that would have helped transforming the web of pages into the web of applications. Concentrating on the content more than on the container.

Microsoft paving the road to Google towards a common target?

Couldn’t resist from posting this after having read the artcile “The 5 best, and 5 worst, features of Google Chrome OS“.
At page 2 of the article, we can read the following:

A surprising way to support Microsoft Office. If you ask a Google executive any question involving Microsoft, you’ll hear the cliche answer — that they company thinks only of users and not of its perceived competitors. But in one of the giggle-inducing moments of Thursday’s demo, Pichai, showed how Chrome OS would handle Office documents — via Microsoft Office Live, the free Web app version of Office available to Windows Live users. If a user clicks on an .xls document, Chrome launches Excel via the browser in Office Live. “Microsoft launched a killer app for Chrome OS …and is working very hard to do that,” he quipped.

Cool, isn’t it?
Outside of joking, the other thing that hit me in this article was the following point:

The application menu. As new Web applications come online tweaked for Chrome OS, Chrome OS will showcase them on a permanent tab it now calls the application menu. This will help users find new applications. Developers with new apps will find this an easier method to showcase them, too. Any Web application that runs in a standards compliant browser should work on a Chrome OS device. But Chrome OS is focused on supporting new protocols such as HTML 5, which, among other improvements, natively supports rich media.

We find a (rather not surprisingly) similarity between the two talks. They both use the browser as a trojan-horse for a way in which applications delivered over the web can be executed as native applications. In this sense, I think, the fact that Silverlight is not a browser technology and Chrome-OS is supposed to fully use HTML 5, is just a technological detail.

On the browers again

An article on ZDNet UK reports the following:

…Silverlight 4 will also host HTML content using a control that supports media plug-ins — so Flash will run inside Silverlight applications.
Business applications written in Silverlight will become more like ordinary applications, Guthrie said, and will now be able to print, access the Windows clipboard, and use more mouse actions, including context menus.
Access is also extended to low-level Windows features such as the Windows Communication Foundation, and Silverlight 4′s development tools
will work with the upcoming Visual Studio 2010.

Out-of-browser applications can now be installed as trusted apps that run outside the Silverlight sandbox on both Windows and Macintosh, Guthrie said, with trusted applications getting access to the local file system and external devices…

I wrote a post almost exactly one year ago, The Struggle for the Soul of the Web.

The browser is universal, but people do not only interact with web sites. People use applications!
The road paved by the iPhone of having dedicated applications delivered just to the point, remembers us that the new technologies for the web need to exploit the power of the devices on which they run.

Perhaps this is what Firefox is indeed planning, according to this article:

“The browsers that are on the horizon aren’t just incremental changes — they represent the pieces to build the next-generation Web — rich with standards-based graphics, new JavaScript libraries and full blown applications,” wrote Christopher Blizzard, an open source evangelist with Mozilla, on Mozilla’s Hacks blog.

Let’s hope it !

Chrome OS and the principles of Web2.0

I read the Google announcement around the new Google Chrome OS.
I immediately went back to my article Enter the “Reign of RIA 3rd”. In that article I expressed my enthusiasm for the new Google browser as I saw, in the way it was announced, the principle for something new, a platform where applications delivered over the web can be executed fast, securely and offline…Chrome becomes a container for applications delivered over the web!
I rememberI concluded that long post saying:

Chrome, which could be the last browser but, perhaps, the first element of a different kind

I think that I missed something that, now, seems so obvious. I thought to Chrome as, mainly, a new RIA platform. Something beyond the traditional browser but still in the domain of a container.
What this announcement tells us is that Google went far beyond. Chrome becomes the OS, not just a container.

And not “just a new kind of OS”, but as the official announcement says, “the web is the platform”.
Ehi, this is exactly the first principle in Tim O’Reilly famous definition of what is Web2.0 !

The border between an OS and the “web as a platform” is blurring. Not only on the Internet infrastructure. It is blurring deep right onto the desktop. The Browser becoming the Operating System and the Operating System becoming an extension of the web platform itself. So, Chrome OS may be much more revolutionary than it appears. It is not simply Google attacking Microsoft on the OS battlefield. It is extending the cloud to the border.
The new Chrome OS may become the real incarnation of that principle. The operating system for the Cloud Generation. Where Web2.0, SOA and Cloud Computing meet and could shape something, this time, very different!

Enter the "Reign of RIA 3rd"

I would like to continue to express my point of view around Google Chrome. First of all, I would like to say that it looks really nice! The performances are incredible but they are just the mean that Google used to reach their goal.

I saw all around very many articles and comments where the accent is always put on the fact that Chrome is the way in which Google is attacking the power of IE8. chrome-1
I think that this is a partial view of what Chrome could actually represent in today’s scenario. In my opinion, Google has chosen to enter the RIA war in a very wise way.

By reading the comic book that introduces Chrome, I was hit by few things:

  1. the accent is always on the the term application, as opposed to “web pages”.
    The starting point, which is consistently reinforced everywhere in the comic book, is always the fact that Google wants to address the need of supporting Applications (delivered over the web).
  2. the book stresses the use that Chrome makes of Gears.
  3. Chrome embeds a mode where one can associate a real “windows application” to a given “application executed over the web”.
    Even if this looks similar to what the Mozilla Prism technology did….
  4. Each tab is executed in its own shell
  5. Javascript is executed in its own Virtual machine

What are those things telling me? 
In my opinion they are telling that Google has decided to create a platform where applications delivered over the web can be executed fast, securely and offline. And this without changing the way in which those applications have been created so far (AJAX). (see what I just posted earlier on this subject)

Whilst Firefox and IE position themselves in the playground of general-purpose browsers, Chrome chooses to target the support of the new generation of Applications delivered over the web (ensuring, of course, a backward compatibility with the legacy of the web, i.e. the “web pages”). This is a big revolution;  Google decided to break the politeness game, where Microsoft and “the others” actually have chosen to improve the experience (of using a browser) without changing the scope (and, thus, keeping the constraints).

Of course, this was not done accidentally, or because of the simple evolution of the technology (even if, from this point of view, what I have tried since when I first downloaded Chrome is simply remarkable!).
All the toys that Google gave us in the last years actually needed something more that what a general-purpose browser was providing. More precisely: Google Gears deserved a more coherent and robust environment! Chrome becomes a container for applications delivered over the web!

In the long term, we think of Chromium as a tabbed window manager or shell for the web rather than a browser application. We avoid putting things into our UI in the same way you would hope that Apple and Microsoft would avoid putting things into the standard window frames of applications on their operating systems … The tab is our equivalent of a desktop application’s title bar; the frame containing the tabs is a convenient mechanism for managing groups of those applications. In future, there may be other tab types that do not host the normal browser toolbar. (see the User Experience Section on Chromium)

Adobe moved to AIR from Flex. Microsoft moved to Silverlight from WPF.
Google has delivered a platform for AJAX. They went beyond the browser, in a way that grants the continuity of the legacy web.

To Google, the browser has become a weak link in the cloud system – the needle’s eye through which the outputs of the company’s massive data centers usually have to pass to reach the user – and as a result the browser has to be rethought, revamped, retooled, modernized. Google can’t wait for Microsoft or Apple or the Mozilla Foundation to make the changes (the first has mixed feelings about promoting cloud apps, the second is more interested in hardware than in clouds, and the third, despite regular infusions of Google bucks, lacks resources), so Google is jump-starting the process with Chrome. (see The cloud’s Chrome lining)

Have you tried to transform Gmail into an application using Chrome? What does it tell?
Now, let’s imagine Google Documents…. and all the other tens of goodies that we were shipped regularly, in a “Beta forever” format by Google…

  • It is an explicit attempt to accelerate the movement of computing off the desktop and into the cloud — where Google holds advantage.
  • Google hopes to kick-start a new generation of Web-based applications that will truly make Microsoft’s worst nightmare a reality: The browser will become the equivalent of an operating system.
  • The clearest expression of this comes when you drag a tab containing a Web application like Gmail to its own separate window and specify that you want an “app shortcut.” At that point, the tabs, buttons, and address bars fall away and the Web app looks pretty much like a desktop app. Welcome to the cloud era.

(see Inside Chrome: The Secret Project to Crush IE and Remake the Web)

I think that Chrome may represent the platform by which Google will establish a new way to consume the Web:

  • at home, of course.
    You will use the Google (web) Applications as applications, in the way in which you are used to use Outlook Express, Word, Excel, MSN
  • in the enterprise. Also !
    You do not have to look in your bookmarks to access the URL that points to your application… You just execute the applications which, accidentally, are delivered over the web but are more and more executed locally (via Gears)

To say this synthetically:

“Any desktop application that has not been implemented in the browser is now going to be implemented in the browser,” Andreessen said. (see What Netscape’s Founder Thinks About the New Google Browser )

When I was speaking about AJAX in the last few years, I remember I often quoted a sentence that said “AJAX means that Javascript now works…“.  What I see with Chrome is that “Chrome means that AJAX (and, thus, Javascript), becomes a full-fledged platform for building local applications“. See it? There is no issue here of sharing the same (j)VM because of resource consumption. The scope is more manageable (certainly less powerful) and, thus, it does not cost anything to start a new application with its own VM.

Google Chrome features a new JavaScript engine, V8, that has been designed for performance from the ground up. In particular, we wanted to remove some common bottlenecks that limit the amount and complexity of JavaScript code that can be used in Web applications. (see Google Chrome’s Need for Speed)

Yes, I am enthusiast. Strange for me when talking about Google! But it is true. I like it. I like what I see.
Some other consideration:

  • Hey, Chrome is a browser that does not ask you to become your “default browser” !
    Very nice, indeed.
  • Chrome may become a Bootable Browser.
    A bootable Chrome-based platform could very well put an end to PC tune-up problems for masses of people. ” (see Is Google’s Chrome browser a Windows killer?)
  • It will be interesting when the Resource Model will be published, in order to really create applications on it

I am now expecting one other step.
I am expecting that Google creates a Declarative Language for easily creating the applications that will be executed by Chrome. After all, in the comic book, they talk about the fact that the team that created the VM is actually able to create a VM for virtually any language. Right ? At runtime, one flavor or the other of the VM can be loaded if the activation cost is so cheap and if the resource consumption is so low.

I think these properties will rapidly make V8 the dominant VM for dynamic languages… the release of the V8 VM is the beginning of a whole new era for dynamic languages (Smalltalk, Ruby, Python, etc).  (see Chrome and V8)

Last, but not least:

And another thing Google did well here was in not trying to over-engineer their explanations of highly technical processes. They simplified their message down to bare essentials, and I felt enlightened after reading this document. Most technical documentation talks down to people, assuming that all the basics are already understood. Google removed some barriers to entry by explaining their new technologies in a way that almost anyone with a little technical know-how can understand. This is something almost every other open source project out there fails at. Technical documentation is far more than simply documentation…it’s an implicit invitation to take part in the experience.At the end of the day, I’m really impressed at the quality of this documentation. I actually read the entire thing, which is much more than I can say about the technical documentation for any other software I use. Who knew that I could find the difference between multiple threads and multiple processes interesting?  (see Google Chrome’s Design Comic )

One word of caution. Page 9 and Page 10 of the Google Comic Book. When they describe the way in which they test Chrome by using the massive cache they have on the internet! Unfair ! And, once again, showing the disproportionate power that Google (as a company) has on today’s Internet.

Before going on, let me explain the title of this post. Napoleon 3rd was, according to the Wikipedia article, “the first President of the French Republic and the only emperor of the Second French Empire. He holds the unusual distinction of being both the first titular president and the last monarch of France.
Much like Chrome, which could be the last browser but, perhaps, the first element of a different kind

The Struggle for the Sould of the Web

Very interesting article, “The Struggle for the Soul of the Web” !
The author enforces the concept of the importance of Ajax standards (and, thus, the Open Ajax Alliance) as a mean to avoid that the web becomes the territory where proprietary solutions (see Flex and SilverLight) will flourish.

In developping his argument, on which I agree, the author makes an interesting statement:
More importantly, Flash and Silverlight work by installing a proprietary plug-in to your browser, thus opting out of the entire browser infrastructure. If you are a plug-in vendor, your incentive is to keep the browser as dumb as possible.
The worse the underlying browser is at rendering rich widgets and media, the more developers and users will want your plug-in. If you are both the vendor of a browser (say IE) as well as the proponent of a plug-in (say Silverlight), then the incentives get truly twisted.

In some way, what he says is very similar to what I have said since a while: we need a new generation of Browsers which are not constraining people from developping applications delivered through the web (see here and here and here for a summary of my opinion on this topic). In that sense, Chrome may be the start of an answer (unfortunately, I say, as it comes from Google instead than from the Open Source community…).
If we want to avoid the risk that Flex and Silverlight will dominate the Web, we need to address this kind of question, which can be summarized by what I found in this other article

We’re in a transition point between the Age of Web Apps and the Age of RIAs (in the web space, that is). And if you doubt that we’re at this transition point, or if you think that RIAs include web apps, ask yourself, does AJAX really give you “all the rich you need”?

Can AJAX really, as Jef Raskin famously stated [60], treat all user input as sacred? Is AJAX really the end all and be all of a Compelling User Experience? Or do we remember that applications used to run outside of a browser?

Of course, it is provoking. But the risk is quite present.

Google strikes back

So, here it is, the long awaited “Google Browser” (called Google Chrome, but the site should go online only tomorrow) has been unveiled in an unconventional announcement in the guise of a comic book.

For the moment, I hold any new comment. I read my old post (from last August). Let’s see if this move will actually make the battleground more free ( by removing the artificial obstacles that an evolution of the Browser technology found because of the war between IE and Firefox) or it will simply be a vehicle by which Google will transform its “presents” (GMail, GCalendar, G<something else>…) into “de-facto” standards.

The initial announcements explicitly thanks what Firefox and Apple Safari did and, more important, commits Google to open-source the innovations that are certainly present in the new Browser.

I suggest people to start reading this post from John Paczkowski, especially what he says at the end:

with its view of the Web as a Web of applications and its multi-process/multi-application design, Chrome almost seems more an operating system than a browser, doesn’t it? Funny, isn’t it. Google’s long been rumored to have been developing a browser and an OS. Who would have known they’d be the same thing ?.

Without having seen and tried yet the Google Chrome browser, I tend to agree with John on the fact that Google is probably shooting towards something that is more an RIA platform than a simple browser.

I would only ask a question. Given the “open source” nature of Firefox, why Google deployed another open-source initiative instead of joining the forces around Firefox ?

Let see when we will better understand how Google Browser is done.

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