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9/2/2008
11:44 PM
Art Wittmann
Art Wittmann
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Is Chrome Right For The Enterprise?

As with most things Google does, Chrome rates high on the coolness scale. From its design under the hood to Google's attention to an appropriate level of features, there's a lot to like about Chrome, but as increasingly seems to be the case with Google, there's also a lot to that should give enterprise users cause for concern.

As with most things Google does, Chrome rates high on the coolness scale. From its design under the hood to Google's attention to an appropriate level of features, there's a lot to like about Chrome, but as increasingly seems to be the case with Google, there's also a lot to that should give enterprise users cause for concern.Technically, the most interesting thing about Chrome is that it isolates each browser instance in its own process, which then runs in its own "sandbox." Google's own comic book does a very nice job of explaining how Chrome differs from other browsers, and how it should be more stable and provide better insight into how resources are being used by the browser. As I think about it, if you get all the way to the end of the comic book, you've got an honorary degree in computer science -- but it's still worth a look. Suffice it to say that Google has replicated a lot of modern operating system functionality within the browser to both protect browser instances and data from each other (so one tab can't crash or corrupt data in other tabs, or on Windows).

Google could indeed someday decide to do away with the operating system and run, say, on top of a hypervisor. The hypervisor would present a hardware abstraction layer, and Google would do the process management for browser instances. That doesn't appear to be Google's goal here, but it could easily decide to go that route, and do away with Windows.

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I say specifically Windows here because in its first instance, Chrome only supports Windows. That's largely because the sandbox technology is tricky stuff that came to Google when it acquired GreenBorder Technologies a few years ago. You can find more than you ever wanted to know about how sandboxes work here.

The idea is that when code runs in a "sandbox," it can do anything it wants, but when it tries to get out of the "sandbox" to transmit data on the Internet, or write to the display, or store information to disk or perform any other system interaction, the action will be checked for proper behavior and then performed on the part of the sandboxed application by a trusted process. The point is that sandboxed application never gets to "touch" system resources on its own, and therefore can be more tightly secured.

Windows is somewhat uniquely architected to accommodate this technology, so it'll be interesting to see how long it takes Google to support Linux and OS X. No doubt work is under way to do just that, but this is the rocket science part of Chrome, so we'll see how long it takes to support other platforms (or to come up with a version that requires no OS at all).

Assuming that Google has done a good implementation, the result will be a more stable and more secure browser that is more appropriate for enterprise use. Chrome also is going to consume more memory and a bit more CPU resources, since almost no resources are shared between browser tabs. Google has done a number of other things that will make Web apps run better too, including providing careful support for JavaScript.

So as you'd expect, the bottom line is that Google's technology is more than sound, it's leading edge.

But then, of course, Google needs to make money. We've found two points in its license agreement that should give enterprise users pause. The first has to do with who actually owns the data that both runs through Chrome and onto any other Google "Service." Turns out, you own the data, Google just gets a perpetual, nonrevocable license to it. As seen here in its license agreement (remember, this is the agreement for Chrome):

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post, or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting, or displaying the content, you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute, and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

11.2 You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations, or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.

Google also reserves the right to "update," in any way it sees fit, the software you've download. Let's hope it never decides "to be evil." Of course. just like every other software vendor, you're going to hold Google harmless for any malfunction that may occur with its code.

And then there's advertising. That's how Google makes its money and you can bet that it's going insure that Chrome is a good vehicle for its ads. Here's the legaleze on that:

17.1 Some of the Services are supported by advertising revenue and may display advertisements and promotions. These advertisements may be targeted to the content of information stored on the Services, queries made through the Services or other information.

17.2 The manner, mode, and extent of advertising by Google on the Services are subject to change without specific notice to you.

17.3 In consideration for Google granting you access to and use of the Services, you agree that Google may place such advertising on the Services.

Let's face it, software licenses are always written in such a way that you wouldn't do business with the licensing vendor -- except for the fact that you need their software. Certainly, enterprise customers are going to want to work through both of these clauses with Google, and assuming that you can, you'll probably have license to the finest Internet application platform yet written.

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