“Chrome is the auto-defrost fridge of browsers”: Google

"Chrome is the auto-defrost fridge of browsers": Google

APC had the opportunity to talk to Google’s Vice President of Product Management Sundar Pichai on video link from the Googleplex at Mountain View California this morning.

Q: Can you take us through the basics of what Chrome offers compared to other browsers?

A: We have streamlined the user experience – and we have minimised the “chrome” around the browser. We have reinvented search and navigation – the two most common things people do in a browser by combining them both into one bar along with an automatically generated page showing your most popular bookmarks and recent history when you open a new tab.

We are using WebKit which is an open source rendering engine – the same one as Safari. As long as a website works in Safari it works in Chrome as well.

We’ve used a multiprocess architecture which fundamentally improves the browser. Each tab runs in its own environment so if one tab crashes it doesn’t take the browser down.

In terms of security even if malware comes down onto your machine it can’t read or write to the machine.

The final piece of technology in Chrome is V8. Your browser needs to execute Javascript to get many web pages to run. V8 is an order of magnitude faster than what you see in other browsers.

Chrome has no direct tie-in with any Google services. When you install Chrome it will migrate your default search services or whatever from your existing browser and we do not favour any Google services. The core is out there is out there for everyone to inspect. So if we do anything wrong in Chrome some developer out there is going to find it in five minutes and blog about it.

If a tab is inactive we don’t consume a lot of resources. It is very fast and very responsive all of the time – you just never have an unresponsive feel to the browser.

Q: One of the best things about Firefox is the hundreds of different add-ons that make it an infinitely customizable browser. Will you provide an extension framework for Chrome?

A: We plan to have an extension API in the future. We will get started on it just as soon as we can – I can’t give you a timeframe on it.

But for example the way we would bring the Google Toolbar to Chrome is that we would create an extension API and make it available to everyone then build our toolbar on that. Other people could build their own toolbars too. (However many of the features from toolbar are already integrated into Google Chrome.)

Q: How does your V8 Javascript core relate to the work that Apple is doing with Squirrelfish and Mozilla with Tracemonkey? [both initiatives designed to make Javascript in Safari and Firefox much faster].

A: We are very excited to see Javascript execution get better across the board. Our hope is that people will look at what we have done in V8 – which is really dramatic improvement – and we can all exchange the best parts of our Javascript cores.

Q: Do you think there will ever be a Google OS? Or is Chrome as far as Google would go in terms of making a desktop environment for web apps?

A: Well I think of Chrome as just a browser. We rely a lot on the underlying OS. You’re right that the browser is getting a lot more powerful but we are just focused on getting the browser experience right. Every Google service is accessed through a browser.

Q: How long have you been working on making Chrome?

A: We’ve been working on Chrome for about two years now.

Q: How long till we see Mac and Linux versions?

A: Predicting software development timelines is something I’ve learned I’m not very good at over time. However finishing the Mac and Linux versions is now the single highest priority across everything we are going to do. It’s a bit difficult to predict the ETA on them but we are now going to migrate a lot of people [who have been working on the Chrome project overall] to work on the Mac and Linux versions even more and that will accelerate the timeline. It will be months though to set expectations correctly.

Q: Will you build proprietary add-ons that exploit the full power of Google Apps?

A: If you look at what we have done up till now we have used the Google Gears framework to help Google Apps – this is a cross-browser fully open method. We don’t see value in doing things in a proprietary way in this area. We want to bring the whole web forward and fighting against that tide is not something I personally think will work. Open source open standards-based web is the way to go.

Q: Have you been working with the WebKit team at Apple? Have they known about Google Chrome while you’ve been making it?

A: I can’t comment on the details of our specific partners but at the WebKit level we’ve been contributing a lot of upstream patches to WebKit to get where we are. So we have definitely been in touch with the team on the other side – it would be impossible to mount a project of this scale without working with the engineers on their side.

Q: There are some things that really suck in browsers across the board like uploading multiple files at once. Are you looking to improve that in Chrome?

A: Absolutely. We are very committed to hacking away all the limitations in browsers one by one. With Gears we worked on the offline data issue. But if you look at the open source repository we are already working on solving the file upload issue and creating a better system for notifications for web applications.

Q: How much faster is Chrome than other browsers?

A: I don’t think we have said Chrome is faster than other browsers – we have shown demonstrations of V8 which is faster than the Javascript in other browsers. The thing is web developers currently program for the browsers that are out there so they stay pretty light on Javascript. They’re not actually making the kind of applications that V8 can run at high speed.

Also Web browser speed is not just about how fast a particular page loads – it’s many different factors. But the most common reaction we see when people use Chrome is: wow that’s fast.

The multiprocess architecture means the whole browser never locks up. When you click on something stuff happens. We render web pages very fast; search and navigation is all in one. The end result of all this is a very fast experience but I wouldn’t necessarily say Chrome is “faster” because there is always a test where any one particular browser will seem faster.

Q: How does Google plan to market Chrome and how many users would you like to see switch?

A: We will market Chrome aggressively – we will market it on the Google homepage (in fact the ad is up there now) we will undertake search engine ads and we may run campaigns around Chrome as well. Our hope is that when you invest as much in a product as we have we attract tens of millions of users. That’s the way we approach it. We are not looking at it from the perspective of what percentage share of the market we will get though. Our goal is that all browsers get better and open-source open-standards based browsers gain share compared to proprietary ones.

Q: What’s different about security in Chrome compared to other browsers?

A: Given each tab is its own process each web page is sandboxed. We restrict privileges sharply in terms of what that process can do in terms of read and write for the rest of the system. We’ve built a layered security model so if the first thing fails you fall back to the second thing then the third thing and so on. For example first we try to stop you going to a bad site through anti-phishing and anti-malware blocklists. If the user bypasses that warning we contain the site to a single tab. If you close the tab the content goes away and it cannot read or write to the system at any time. Effectively we sharply restrict what malicious programs can do.

Q: Where did you find all the developers to work on Chrome?

A: There is an element of “all roads lead to Rome” in the browser space… the kind of people that work on browsers all seem to track back to Mosaic and Netscape. But there is an amazing diversity on the team. More than half the team could be the tech lead on any other project. We have specialised centres. We have an office in Denmark headed by Lars Bak – they built V8 from scratch.

Q: How much has it cost Google to make Chrome?

A: It’s a huge investment for us. You can’t build a major new browser without making a huge investment. There are many benefits for us. Every part of Google is experienced through users using a browser. It is the fundamental part of people consuming Google services. People who use our products tend to be heavier and more loyal users over time. They tend to take up multiple Google services.

The other direct benefits is by getting our browser out there we have created a better “platform company” to run. What I mean by that is: we have evolved from a search company to a search and ads company and now a search and ads and apps company. We sell application services to businesses. These products will sell better if we create a better platform for these products.

And along the way we help make all browsers better which will encourage people to use the web more. As people use the web more commerce on the web increases.

Q: What is the philosophy behind the design of Chrome?

A: You will not see a dialogue box from Google Chrome. Our philosophy is to get rid of them. We don’t believe in interrupting the users ever. When you download something in Google Chrome we show it inline. We don’t show a dialogue box. We don’t prompt users for updates – we want the auto-defrost refrigerator of browsers. We don’t want the refrigerator to ring an alarm and tell you it’s going to defrost itself and ask for your approval. Chrome will just stay updated by itself.

Q: How will this impact on “the browser wars”? Is Google going to be a fierce competitor?

A: You know I think browser wars are something of the past from an era when companies had proprietary systems and were competing each other. We have a much broader momentum behind the open web.

Q: How will Chrome disrupt the Mozilla relationship? Mozilla relies on Google for the tens of millions in funding it gets every year.

A: I have personally been in close touch with them throughout the course of this project. They are a very valued partner for us – and browsers would not be where they are today without Mozilla and Firefox. They will continue to be a the forefront of browser innovation and we just extended our business partnership with them for three years.

Most users don’t recognise there are things called browsers that they have choice in. But most people spend more time in their browsers than their car – would you accept any car without test driving it once? We just hope to make people realise there is choice in browsers. We hope to expand the whole pie and in fact we hope to benefit Firefox as well.

Q: Where did the name Chrome come from?

A: It’s one of the ironic things about the Chrome project actually. We wanted to minimise the chrome in the browser – the bar of the browser window – everything you see other than the web page. The model of the team was “content not chrome”. So the word “chrome” was used a lot and that was the codename for the project. When we went through our naming exercise all the alternatives were shot down in favour of Chrome… we tried all sorts of names but ultimately the team wanted to stay with Chrome.

Q: Corporate and government network administrators like to block software downloads and restrict people to their standard software environment. Have you done anything to help Chrome punch through their restrictions or do you see corporates keeping their nice comfortable IE environment years from now?

A: Well I’ve been working on client software in Google for 4.5 years now. We’ve spent a lot of effort over time to make sure people can install the product easily. It’s only 7MB and that has all 43 languages in it. We have done a huge amount of testing and work to make sure that from the moment a user clicks ‘download’ that everything installs smoothly. Our install success rates are very high. But to be honest the question of compatibility with corporate and government environments that are deliberately restrictive is very low on my list – it’s not something that is keeping me awake at night.

Q: You’ve said that you don’t want to do things in Chrome that unfairly advantage Google or break web standards. But do you see web standards themselves being driven by Google?

A: Yes we’re very interested in driving standards forward. For example everything we did in Gears – we’re working to get that included as standards in HTML 5. Anything we want to contribute to browsers we will do in Gears which is cross-browser not Chrome specifically.