The rise of Google Chrome
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Google's Chrome accounts only for about 4 percent of browser usage worldwide, but in 2009, it exerted outsized influence.
Google launched the open-source browser in 2008, prompting many to ask why anyone needed another after Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Mozilla's Firefox, and Apple's Safari. But over the course of 2009, Google answered that question: with Chrome, the company wants not just to speed up the Web but to rebuild its foundations.
But the most ambitious change came with July's announcement of the open-source Chrome OS operating system. It uses Linux under the covers, but Chrome OS applications all run in the browser. That design today has serious practical limitations, so it's fitting the first incarnation of Chrome OS, due in 2010, is for "companion" Netbooks rather than full-fledged replacement PCs. Google released the rough Chrome OS source code in November.
On a more down-to-earth note, by year's end, Google had released a beta version of Chrome for Mac and Linux, not just Windows, and added a long-awaited extensions system.
Many Chrome ambitions are still far from any practical reality, but the browser had effects. One: Mozilla programmers have improved launch speed in the Firefox 3.6 beta.
Although Chrome stole some hearts among the techies who historically embraced Firefox, Mozilla's browser was hardly pushed aside. Indeed, Firefox usage crept steadily up to about 25 percent worldwide over 2009. That's a large enough population to make Mozilla's effort to "upgrade the Web" more than posturing.
Mozilla is aggressively adding new features to Firefox, and a host arrived with Firefox 3.5 in June, notably the ability to embed video directly into Web pages without requiring a plug-in such as Adobe Systems' Flash. HTML5 video remains hobbled by differences in opinion over the best video format to use, though. Ultimately, browser companies want to make the Web a foundation for applications, not just static sites, and the work includes interfaces for file handling, multitasking, Webcams, geolocation, and WebGL for 3D graphics.
Some of these improvements are spreading to multiple browsers through development of version 5 of the Hypertext Markup Language. Even Microsoft, whose Internet Explorer is derided as a laggard by techies and Web developers, climbed aboard with direct participation in HTML5 standardization work.
Those plans advanced in July when the World Wide Web Consortium threw its full weight behind HTML5 rather than the comparatively unsuccessful alternative, XHTML 2.0.
Attention now is shifting toward IE 9, though, which Microsoft previewed in December. Hardware acceleration dramatically speeds up some elements of its display, and the new version will comply better with Web standards. Microsoft hasn't announced a ship date for the new version, but it's clear the company is feeling more comfortable with its re-engagement in the browser wars.
--by Stephen Shankland
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A major update to the open-source Web browser has arrived. Next challenge: getting Web programmers to employ its features.
Watch out Microsoft: Google's browser project is the foundation for a Web-based operating system. Chrome OS Netbooks are due in 2010.
Although the failed effort may have been a work of "philosophical purity," it was overshadowed by HTML 5. Why are Web standards so darned hard to create?
By building its O3D plug-in into Chrome, Google is laying more groundwork for faster Web applications in its browser--and later, for Chrome OS.
The developer of the market-leading browser has become more actively engaged in hashing out many details of a proposed revamp of the Web page standard.
Google has built into its browser the ability to tap directly into a computer's native processing power through software called Native Client. Also: more extensions work.
The third beta imposes a new restriction on how third-party software can interact with it. And a feature called Resource Package could speed up Firefox 3.7.
By showing its first glimpses of technology in Internet Explorer 9, Microsoft also is showing it's serious about building a competitive browser.
Ahead of an event designed to show off the OS for the first time, Google has released source code for the project. More is expected, including a demonstration.
Search giant issues the first beta versions of its browser for Mac OS X and Linux. Maturity could spread adoption, and the stable version is due in a month.
WebGL has moved from an idea at Mozilla and the Khronos Group to a draft standard for the 3D Web. Don't expect a browser-based Call of Duty just yet, though.