Google Chrome...is Windows inside, which may be a strategic error

Google may have started with the wrong desktop platform in trying to create a groundswell for its Chrome browser.

In a fascinating post, Scott Hanselman pulls apart the Google Chrome browser to discover Windows inside or, rather, Windows Template Library (WTL). WTL was open sourced by Microsoft back in 2004 and went somewhat silent until now, when it popped up in Google's open-source browser.

Hanselman calls out the reason for WTL's inclusion:

Chrome uses abstraction libraries to draw the GUI on other non-Windows platforms, but for now, what sits underneath part of ChromeViews is good ol' WTL. Makes sense, too. Why not use a native library to get native speeds? They are using WTL 8.0 build 7161 from what I can see.

Speed matters, and getting top speeds on Windows may require using native Windows libraries, graciously offered by Microsoft back in 2004 as open source.

However, not everything came free of charge (and effort) from Microsoft, as Hanselman points out, and it appears from a recent PCWorld article by Neil McAllister that the effort to bring Chrome to the Mac and Linux will be even harder. Hanselman writes:

Looks like The Chromium authors may have disassembled part of the Windows Kernel in order to achieve this security feature [Data Execution Protection] under Windows XP SP2. Probably not cool to do that, but they're clearly doing it for good and not evil, as their intent (from reading their code) is to make their browser safer under XP SP2 and prevent unwanted code execution.

So the Chrome authors have had to cut some corners to make the browser secure on Windows. Microsoft may not like the approach, but as Hanselman notes, at least Google is doing it for benevolent purposes.

Fine. But what I really want to see is Chrome for the Mac (and Linux). For this, however, PCWorld's McAllister suggests that we "shouldn't hold our breath," as the "Mac build is a work in progress that is much closer to the start than the finish." In part, this is because Google needs to code around Windows platform-specific elements like WTL.

All of which means that while Microsoft's open-source efforts may ensure it will take first place in the Chrome bake-off, Google is forcing the early adopters to stick with Firefox, rather than experiment with Chrome. The trendsetting crowd is with the Mac and, to a lesser but still significant extent, Linux, not Windows. (Of course, some data doesn't support this contention.)

It might make sense to aim for the mainstream (i.e., corporate IT, which would get the most benefit from an JavaScript-optimized Web browser), but the mainstream isn't in the habit of trying out the latest and greatest.

Personally, I think Google needs the entrepreneurial CIO and CTO if it hopes to make Chrome stick. That crowd, however, is likely not a Windows crowd. Time will tell if this was a strategic error on Google's part.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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