Week in review: Google's Chrome shines

Web giant makes long-awaited foray into browser market, while the mobile market warms up. Also: Tech goes to Republican National Convention.

Google made its long-rumored foray into Web browsers with the introduction of its open-source Chrome, but in the process, it ruffled some privacy feathers.

Word of the browser first accidentally leaked on the Web in the form of a detailed 38-page comic book that appeared on Google Blogoscoped, an unofficial Google blog.

The browser was written with WebKit, the open-source engine at the core of Apple's Safari and Google's Android. The browser is also getting a new JavaScript virtual machine, V8. It's said to be a better solution for complex and rich Web applications, yielding better performance and "smoother drag and drops" in interactive applications.

The project should dispel any lingering thoughts that the browser wars are over. To be sure, it's less cutthroat now than in the 1990s, but one of technology's most powerful companies just entered the battlefield .

Even before Google's browser became available for download, its repercussions were traversing the industry. There are plenty of implications from a company as large as Google that builds a browser tuned to advance the company's agenda of Web-based applications.

Chrome, Google said during its launch event, is much faster at showing Web pages than the most widely used browser , Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Google's hope is that performance will open up the bottleneck that chokes the speed and abilities of today's Web-based applications.

In short, Chrome is more of a long-term competitive threat to Microsoft Office and Windows than it is to Internet Explorer. That may sound a little grand, but the evidence is on display in Google's own lobby, where the search company's computer kiosks present a browser only--no start menu, no desktop shortcuts, no operating system.

So how does Chrome actually stack up? Google was eager to toot its horn about Chrome's performance running JavaScript , a programming language used to power many sophisticated Web applications such as Google Docs, Yahoo's Zimbra e-mail site, and Zoho's online application suite. On each one of these tests, Chrome clearly trounced the competition.

However, Mozilla fought back with some performance results to show a forthcoming version of Firefox outpacing Chrome in a different test called SunSpider.

Firefox 3.1, which Mozilla hopes to release by the end of the year, comes with JavaScript acceleration technology called TraceMonkey. In Mozilla's test that pitted TraceMonkey-enhanced Firefox against the Chrome beta, Google's browser was 28 percent slower on Windows XP and 16 percent slower on Windows Vista.

Privacy advocates objected to Chrome's End User License agreement, which appeared to give Google a perpetual right to use anything one entered into the browser . Section 11 stated that although users retain copyright to their works, "by submitting, posting, or displaying the content, you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and nonexclusive 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."

However, Google backtracked, saying it plans to alter those contract terms . Google said the change, once made, will apply retroactively to anyone who has downloaded the browser.

Privacy concerns were also raised over the issues of what information Google plans to store on its servers . Provided that users leave on the auto-suggest feature in Chrome and have Google as their default search provider, Google has the right to store any information typed into Chrome's Ominibox, which serves as both search bar and address bar. Google told CNET News that it plans to store about 2 percent of all such data, along with the IP address of the computer that entered the information.

Going mobile
Google co-founder Sergey Brin expects the Chrome technology to make its way to Android , the company's mobile-phone operating system and software suite. Chrome and Android were developed largely separately, Brin said in an interview at the Chrome launch event.

"We have not wanted to bind one's hands to the other's," Brin said. But you can expect that to change, now that both projects are public and nearing their first final releases.

"Probably a subsequent version of Android is going to pick up a lot of the Chrome stack," Brin said, pointing to JavaScript improvements as one area.

When and if that happens, Google will have to contend with Apple, which has seen a large increase in the iPhone's global Web share , according to new figures. The figures, collected by Web analytics company Net Applications, show that in June 2008, before the launch of the iPhone 3G, the iPhone had 0.16 percent share of the operating-system market, as measured by OS detection during Web browsing; and in July, it had 0.19 percent.

However, as of September 1, the iPhone had 0.3 percent of global market share, an increase of 58 percent in one month. According to Net Applications, this was due to the July launch of the iPhone 3G. The figures also showed Microsoft's dominance steadily, if slowly, decreasing.

Meanwhile, AT&T said it had fixed a problem that caused many iPhone users in the northeastern United States to complain that they couldn't access the mobile Web . The problem, which caused some users to not be able to surf the Web on their phones, did not affect phone calls, text messages, or mobile e-mail from devices such as Research In Motion's BlackBerry.

And it looks as though Microsoft is joining Apple and Google in the mobile "application store" market . The software giant expects to launch "Skymarket" this fall for its Windows Mobile platform, if a recent job posting spotted by Long Zheng at Istartedsomething.com is accurate. According to the ad, posted on Computerjob.com, the Skymarket senior product manager will head a team that will "drive the launch of a v1 marketplace service for Windows Mobile."

Tech goes to the Republican convention
While John McCain saw a flood of online donations last week, thanks to his newly announced vice presidential choice, Sarah Palin, his campaign was steering Web donors to a site that helps victims of Hurricane Gustav.

The Republican Party canceled nearly all scheduled events for the Republican National Convention on Monday, save official business, out of respect for those impacted by the hurricane. However, a few special guests remained on the docket of speakers at the St. Paul Xcel Energy Center, including Cindy McCain and First Lady Laura Bush.

"I would ask that each one of us commit to join together to aid those in need as quickly as possible," Cindy McCain said. "As John has been saying for the last several days, this is a time when we take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats."

Republican National Convention leaders also asked convention attendees to pledge donations to hurricane relief funds via text to the code 2HELP, using the keyword GIVE.

Hurricane Gustav's unexpected interference with the four-day event highlighted the deft communications needed to direct nearly 5,000 delegates and alternate delegates through the formal presidential nomination process. The RNC turned to cloud computing for the most efficient means of registering the delegates, and when the clouds of Hurricane Gustav threatened to throw the event off course, the RNC stepped up their communications with the delegates.

Early in the week, before the storm subsided, Republican leaders were reviewing the convention schedule on a day-to-day basis to determine whether to proceed with planned events. The party maintained a text message alert system for the delegates "to keep them fully informed not only of delegate activities but also to get them information about the storm," McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said.

McCain got the enthusiastic endorsements of two of Silicon Valley's best-known female executives , who said he was a far more attractive candidate than his Democratic rival on economic and tax grounds.

The pro-McCain pair were Meg Whitman, who stepped down as eBay's chief executive officer in March, and Carly Fiorina, the chairman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard from 1999 to 2005. Both are active in the McCain campaign; both have been talked about as receiving high-level appointments, if McCain is elected.

Also of note
Comcast is appealing a ruling by the Federal Communications Commission that found the broadband provider had illegally blocked some customers' Web traffic...Silicon Valley start-up NebuAd has suspended plans to deploy a controversial program that displays ads based on the monitoring of Web activity while Congress reviews privacy concerns...Intel is expected to announce the "Dunnington" processor later this month, the first six-core processor and last of its Penryn chips...Apple sent out invitations for a music-related event next week, and the smart money is on new iPods.

 

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