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Google Chrome: Does the World Need Another Browser?

While Google seems to be becoming more and more competitive with the PC world when it comes to browsers and, in fact, operating systems, I think some of you might forget that they are in a different business. Although they get a small income from the enterprise version of Google Apps, the vast majority of their revenue comes from advertising.

So whenever you do a Google search, you see specially targeted ads in the results. Free versions of their products, including Gmail, also include ads that are focused on you depending on your email habits. Although Google claims they protect your privacy, they still know lots about you.

When it comes to the Android operating system, they give it away to wireless phone makers. But the apps that you run on those phones that are provided by Google include the ads from which they derive their real payment. The same is true for the forthcoming Google Chrome OS. All right, there is their new DNS service, designed to replace the one that is provided by your ISP, but their ultimate goal, other than tracking Web surfing patterns, isn’t clear.

As you might expect, Google is heavily involved in the Web browser business. A large portion of the funding for Mozilla, which delivers Firefox, comes from the Google search feature that is that browser’s default. Apple also provides a fair amount of income to Google courtesy of the search features in Safari for the Mac, Windows and the iPhone.

That takes us to the Google Chrome browser. Although it uses the WebKit rendering engine, same as Apple’s Safari, Chrome actually came out on the Windows platform first, surprisingly enough, or maybe their marketing people decided they could generate more paid clicks that way. Regardless, a Mac version has finally reached public beta, after being available in an alpha version for quite a long time.

Without going into the raw details, it’s always nice to see another entrant in the browser wars. But whether or not Chrome is something that large numbers of people will or should adopt is an open question. Frankly, I don’t find any reason to choose it in place of Firefox, Opera, Safari or any other contender.

I’ll be brief about features and capability, but I’m not going to render a final verdict, forgive the pun. It’s still quite early in the development process, and the missing features might eventually appear.

Since Chrome uses WebKit, I didn’t expect much of a difference between Google’s contender and Safari in actually displaying Web pages. Early benchmarks indicate Safari is faster, but these are the sort of differences that involve fractions of a second and thus can be safely ignored unless there’s some serious glitch one way or the other.

My particular bugaboo is the apparent inability of Chrome to display the QuickTime player on our radio show sites. This is actually the first time I’ve observed such behavior on a beta browser in recent years, and I wonder if it is in part related to the problem that I confirmed with their DNS service. In that case, Apple’s QuickTime Broadcaster, which is used to stream our radio shows to the Web server, would hang upon launch. Switching to OpenDNS, the one that I prefer anyway because of its expanded features for safety and reliability, cured the problem. And, yes folks, I’m in touch with a Google product manager about this problem and it does appear to have been resolved as of the last time I tested a Broadcaster stream. But performance advantages among the public DNS services are often so slight as to be barely detectible in the real world.

Another issue with the Chrome beta is the apparent inability to properly manage bookmarks brought over from other browsers. While that may not be a significant matter for some of you, I do know of people who have dozens and dozens of bookmarks and intricately-sorted folders for whom this missing feature will make Chrome a non-starter.

On the other hand, I suppose a minimalist application has its place and certainly Chrome seems to mate reasonably well into a Mac environment. Indeed, the advantages are certainly obvious. Fewer features mean a reduced learning curve, a smaller number of preferences to set and, in the end, make it possible for you to concentrate more on the actual browsing experience.

This isn’t to say I will never use Chrome except for brief testing. Competition is good, and I’m always looking for better ways to get things done. That’s why I always keep such innovative products as Opera in my Web surfing arsenal, since there are always great ideas inherent in that relatively lightweight application, ideas that once included the original iteration of tabs and other features that eventually were adopted by other companies.

In the scheme of things, it’s perfectly all right for Google to want to expand its income base with free software and operating systems. Certainly, Chrome has already gotten extremely positive reviews on the Windows platform, and the Mac version seems, well, promising.

On the other hand, I’ve seen nothing to make me want to switch browsers, at least not yet. But I could change my mind as Chrome is updated for the Mac.