Editor's Desk | Beneath the Chrome

Google's surprise entrance into the Web browser market came as a shot across Microsoft's bow

IT WAS HARD TO IGNORE the shockwaves surrounding Google's recent introduction of its new Web browser, named Chrome, just days after Microsoft's release of a beta version of Internet Explorer 8.

Microsoft has endured a slow but steady erosion of its overwhelming dominance in how the world accesses and uses the Internet. So the enhancements in its newest release were seen by some as a sign of renewed vigor for a browser that was showing its age. It was also seen as an acknowledgment that Web-savvy features on Mozilla Foundation's Firefox and Apple's Safari browsers were gaining favor.

Google's surprise entrance into the Web browser market with an alternative that makes it easier and safer for users to run Web-based software applications came as a shot across Microsoft's bow. And it comes as a shot in the arm for Web application developers, as GCN reports this issue.

Chrome represents a new platform, engineered to handle many of the tasks of traditional operating systems, but designed to deal with increasingly complex applications emerging on the Web.

At its heart is a new open-source rendering engine, named WebKit, with an efficient use of memory and ability to adapt easily to embedded devices that has engendered a growing development community. However, it also offered a solution to Google engineers who were looking for more efficient ways to process JavaScript ' the language of choice for a growing number of desktop Web applications.

The answer was to process multiple instruction threads ' rather than the single, sequential threads common to most Web applications ' in much the way traditional operating systems work.

However, that meant giving each thread its own memory space and a copy of the global data structure. Traditional browsers weren't designed to juggle so many memory assignments, forcing the operating system to step in.

The result was an ugly ballet of memory handoffs, increasingly sluggish performance and application failures.

Chrome lays the foundation for solving that problem by tackling inherent flaws in JavaScript, and in particular, the way V8, a JavaScript virtual machine, works with a computer's memory. The details are cleverly captured in a comic book produced by Google's design team and is now making the rounds in the blogosphere (GCN.com/1199.) The result is a browser that still lacks many of the robust features of IE8. What Chrome does deliver, besides improved performance, is a new ' and potentially game-changing ' approach to working with Web applications on the Internet.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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