September 09, 2008

Webtop Wars & Security Patches for Google Chrome Browser

Several days after its beta release, and it looks like Google's new Chrome browser suffers from security flaws much the same as its competitors. CNET News' Security blog posted about a number of security patches already released by Google. Also, yesterday Google established a Google Chrome Releases blog to let users know about releases, fixes, security updates, and other changes.

Just remember, Chrome is a beta release so it's a work in progress. Microsoft's IE8 beta has also been well underway, with the first beta released back in March and the second beta released two weeks ago. IE8's beta sports a number of interesting new features, which are detailed at Wikipedia's IE8 page -- just remember it's an unofficial source.

And of course, Firefox 3 beat them both with an official release earlier this summer. I haven't seen this much excitement and competition over new browsers since the dot.com era.

Opera was made free some time ago, but it doesn't look like it's helped their market share in any noticeable fashion. I've typically shunned using their browser due to various incompatibilities reported by users, and I've augmented both IE and Firefox with various add-ons and plugins to get most of Opera's benefits. I actually find their Opera Mini browser to be more compelling, as it offers a different browser toolset on my BlackBerry than its bundled browser.

And let's not forget Safari, both on Apple PCs and the iPhone/iPod Touch devices. Granted, that's a different platform than Windows.

This time, Google has a vested interest in having some control over your webtop, particularly in light of their expanding applications list (think Google Apps). As defined at Wikipedia:

"A web desktop or webtop is a desktop environment embedded in a web browser or similar client application. A webtop integrates web applications, web services, client-server applications, application servers, and applications on the local client into a desktop environment using the desktop metaphor. Web desktops provide an environment similar to that of Windows, Mac, or a graphical user interface on Unix and Linux systems. It is a virtual desktop running in a web browser. In a webtop the applications, data, files, configuration, settings, and access privileges reside remotely over the network. Much of the computing takes place remotely. The browser is primarily used for display and input purposes."
That's a fair definition. However, Google is going to have to work hard to compete in light of IE's and Firefox's established presences. ZDNet's Hardware 2.0 blog posts the question, "Is Google’s Chrome sliding into obscurity?" In tracking Chrome's usage hourly, after initial increases in market share, it has started to slide back over the past few days.

So while I'm glad to see another major player, especially one generally committed to adhering to web standards, I'm also beginning to think that after the initial media hype free pass is over, Google will need to deliver a fast, safe, stable, feature-rich, and innovative browsing experience to win over, and more importantly, keep the minds and hearts of its users. And that includes being very, very transparent on the data privacy aspects, both when using its normal mode and private browsing mode. I'm not so sure that a search engine company will be able to do that since it's an inherent conflict with their business model. But as I said in my prior post, I'm glad to see the competition intensify as we'll benefit by seeing more rapid and innovative developments on our webtop.

I don't see Chrome ending up as most people's primary browser -- IE and Firefox will continue to dominate there -- but as a secondary or tertiary browser, it may be used for more niche purposes. But I also think people are willing to cut Google some slack for now, considering this is their very first release. After all, the other browsers have been out for years, so Google has to catch up quickly. They did pretty well with Gmail, but again, I don't use it for any sensitive information because it's "read" by their automated services. Truth be told, I still prefer Yahoo's classic e-mail interface, having tried their new one and went back to the old one. It just works the way I like.

So far, I've pretty much filed Chrome under the category of "Google needed a web browser for their webtop offerings". We'll just have to see if they convince us otherwise.

Topic(s):   Privacy & Security  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard