Why care about Google Chrome?

In the last 24 hours there's been a lot of conversation about Chrome. When Safari was released for Windows, why was so little written about Safari's SharePoint compatibility? I used Opera for years,  but why never a post about Opera and SharePoint (summary: it stinks, even drop-down menus fail to render)? What's the big deal about Chrome? Web developers certainly don't need another browser to support, unless this is the one that finally gets it right, and the odds of that are way high against. So why did I bother?

Unlike earlier entries -- and Firefox is the only measure of success to compare anything against --  Chrome has a chance of grabbing enough market share to make a difference against MSIE. The first win with long-term implications is that Google did a great job of designing a browser core, and while the first cartoon was aimed at developers, you can bet that its next features and marketing will be aimed squarely at users. Chrome is the first contender since Netscape with even a snowball's chance in Furnace Creek of unseating MSIE. Even though it's hot and the snowball isn't like to make it, this is an event.

The release of Chrome is also an opportunity to point out what's wrong with the browser market. Browser choice (that is, for any browser that bothers to adhere to standards) should be as much a matter of style as Word vs. WordPerfect used to be or Zune vs. iPod vs. Sansa vs. Zen is today. Say it again, web developers don't need another browser to support, web designers should be writing to standards, not to brands. A brand can become a de facto standard, but that's still a sign of either an immature market or a space that no one cares enough to compete in. I'd like to think we've come further than this since 1993, and that a new browser release should have little more effect on web developers than a new MP3 player does for musicians. Why are so many of today's conversation about standards and compatibility? That's a problem.

I do expect that as soon as browscap.ini (or whatever the equivalent is today) is updated we’ll see better behavior out of Chrome against existing sites including SharePoint. My guess is that Chrome would render existing .js better, but it’s being served a safe fall-back version by sites that don't yet recognize it as a client. Opera provides a switch to identify itself as different browsers against any given site, and that was a great trick when Opera worked better against some versions of IE-targeted code than others. Full Silverlight support will be coming soon. I don't know that for certain, but ScottGu's entire team is obsessed about cross-platform and they consistently surprise the skeptics, so it would be more surprising if it doesn't come to pass.

As for SharePoint and standards, the unfortunate reality is that when your product is deployed at companies that can limit browser choice and have consultants who can bend your product to meet the low percentage of organizations with accessibility standards, you get to live in a bubble and standards aren't yet a priority. Keep pushing, maybe one day a release like this really won't matter.

Until then, what I wrote yesterday stands. This is a new product that needs to accelerate through a lifecycle that other browsers have lived for years. It isn't ready for prime-time today. And if you needed another reminder not to use beta products in production, Chrome even had its own Day Zero Security Flaw. Since malicious hackers tend to target the clients people use most, perhaps the clearest signal of Chrome's importance is that people are bothering to look. On to the next question: "how long before Chrome tells me that a security update is ready for download?"

[Updated 2008-08-04]

Chrome's EULA will prevent it from being blessed as a corporate browser anytime soon was fixed within a day so now you can own the content you write in Chrome, now there's a happy update, issue resolved.

Privacy concern -  Chrome sends every URL you visit to toolbarqueries.google.com by default (you can watch it with Fiddler). You can turn it off through Options, Under the Hood, and uncheck "Help make Google Chrome better by automatically sending usage statistics and crash reports to Google." How does tracking my clicks improve Chrome? Good question.

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