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Google Chrome's First Year

A year after its release, the Web browser -- and operating system -- isn't a Microsoft-killer, but it has enthusiastic supporters and influence.

In the year since Google's Chrome browser first shipped, it is still a technology triumph. But early hopes that it would be a Microsoft-killer, challenging not just Internet Explorer, but the Windows operating system itself, now seem remote.

The technology looks as fresh now as it did on September 2, 2008 when it emerged into public beta. It's a lean, fast, secure, and stable open source Web browser, designed for the new generation of Web 2.0 apps, such as Facebook, Twitter, or Google's own Gmail and Docs. Other browsers, according to Google, are designed for the old way of using the Web, where you go to a site and look at some static pages. Increasingly, however, Web sites are full-fledged applications, and demand a different kind of Web browser.

Chrome is built differently than other browsers. Each tab is a separate process. If one tab crashes or grinds to a halt, it doesn't take down the whole browser. If you're writing a long, complicated document in Google Docs, or doing your tax returns online, you don't want to lose all your work just because the browser crashed while you were taking a break and uploading cat videos to Facebook. "It's really painful when one of those tabs crashes and takes the whole thing down," said Ian Fette, product manager for Google Chrome, in a phone interview.

Chrome features a fast, new JavaScript engine. Web 2.0 apps use a lot of JavaScript, which can slow a browser down.

But that's under the hood. The most noticeable difference between Chrome and other browsers are in the user interface: The tabs are located above the address bar, opposite of how it is in other browsers. The Windows version of Google Chrome doesn't include the standard title bar at the top. And Chrome doesn't have a lot of buttons and menus. Chrome is a streamlined, unadorned window onto the Web.

Google explained all this delightfully in a comic book that it released alongside Chrome.

Enthusiastic Start

Early reviews of Google Chrome were enthusiastic. In were my review, I wrote:

"All in all, the first public Chrome beta is off to a great start. Chrome puts a shine on your Web browsing experience, and the vendors of competitive browsers -- most notably Mozilla.org and Microsoft -- had better get busy polishing up their offerings." I particularly loved (and still love) the Omnibar; a combined address bar and search box; you type your URLs and searches in the same place, and Chrome figures out which you meant.

Some saw Chrome as a gun aimed at Microsoft. The headlines from a year ago say it. TechCrunch: "Meet Chrome, Google's Windows Killer." TechDirt: "Google's Browser Is A Warning Shot At Windows, Not At Internet Explorer." The rationale: By offering an easy way to access Web apps, Google Chrome would make desktop apps, and even the desktop operating system, irrelevant.

The anti-Microsoft argument became even louder when Google announced Chrome OS in July. All Chrome OS apps will run inside the browser. The Linux-based OS is designed to run on low-power computers and netbooks. And Acer, Adobe, ASUS, Freescale, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and Toshiba are all working with Google to help it re-imagine the operating system.

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