Google still shiny?

So Google has recently released a new browser, Chrome, which must have been named to remind us that the company is still shiny and new. I must of course commend them for certain features:

  • Relocating the address bar.
  • Just like Opera the address bar is now located below the tabs.

  • Incognito mode.
  • The ability to browse the web without tarnishing your computer or leaving traces of where you’ve been. Just like IE8’s Privacy mode, and long available Firefox plugins. Unfortunately, with the web as it currently stands, Google (and other advertisers) still know where you’ve been (through Analytics and other tracing services). When browsing in this mode, it’s only your computer that won’t record your browsing habits, all the other recorders remain fully operational. So, feel free to be lulled into a false sense of security, and reveal the details of your fetishes, preferences, likes and dislikes for full targeted advertising (or worse).

  • Confined Popups.
  • It sounds convenient, to confine a popup to a little box at the bottom of your page; but, if the browser actually goes to the trouble of rendering the contents of that window in the background, it becomes a delightfully innocuous looking place to stash nefarious javascript. Just running the page through the renderer will cause leakage of all sorts of information, yet the user is kept blissfully unaware, because they never see the rendered result.

  • Phish warning.
  • Yes, it’s very useful to let Google tell you wether you’re visiting a phishy site. But if your browser asks, at every page load, is this url a phish? then Google most assuredly knows your browsing history and habits. Even if you use the privacy mode, Google knows where you’ve been today. Not only is it easier to compile these requests into a browsing history than trying to interpolate through Analytics data, but the information thus gathered will be much more complete.

  • Omnibox.
  • Copied from Firefox’s Awesome Bar.

  • Draggable Tabs.
  • Konqueror has had this feature for awhile now, though in my opinion it’s rather incomplete. In Chrome’s case, since each tab is run as a separate process, dragging the tab is akin to creating a continuation and passing it to another window. This means the entire tab and all its state pass through unaffected. While Konqueror simply loads a new window with the address of the dragged tab, so you wind up at the same site, but all the state has disappeared. It doesn’t work so well webapps.

  • Task Manager.
  • Since each tab is now a separate process, the browser, like the Operating System before it, now requires its own task manager.

  • Crash prevention.
  • Isolating tabs as separate process improves security and user experience. It makes it more difficult for separate pages to communicate sensitive information to each other, and it prevents badly formed javascript from killing the entire browser.

  • Personalized Start Page.
  • Inspired by Mozilla’s Ubiquity project, the zero-configuration interface places links and shortcuts to places you visit often; so really, really make sure to use Incognito mode for porn, lest it ‘conveniently’ be placed on your start page.

  • Cartoon Introduction.
  • I loved both it, and the parodies it inspired.

Despite the fiasco with a cut-n-pasted license agreement, and reports of bugs, I still think that the Chrome Browser is more securable than other browsers because of the underlying process architecture.

It also begins to look like Google isn’t so much innovating new stuff as they are desperately pushing for a different browsing experience. They commissioned a new Javascript engine, V8, with an explicit focus on execution speed for Google computationally intensive web applications and services. I’m sure they don’t plan on profiting much from Chrome directly (information harvesting is indirect), but they’ve got developer’s attention on improving standards compliance, user interface and better javascript performance.

But, the new browser also represents an important new step in Google’s quest for ownership of all the world’s information (and they aren’t even subtle about it!). Not only will it assist in personal data-collection, but it will certainly encourage greater use of associated Google web services (for a better web experience). Vendor lock-in on the web happens as a result of data ownership, just as lock-in on office happens because of file formats. Google understands this better than most people realize. Nobody forces you to use Google services; but your past self that decided some years ago that these services were convenient, and didn’t consider the related privacy issues that concern you today, when it’s too late.

The company needs a new motto (apologies to Max Headroom):

We make everything you need and you need everything we make.