With Google Instant, the close link between the company's browser and search service is getting even closer--but Google wants to ensure that the Chrome-Google pairing isn't the only one possible on the Net.
If a proposal from the search giant catches on, browser users might, for example, be able to see Yahoo search results in Firefox--or more likely, Microsoft Bing search results instantly in Internet Explorer. The proposal, if accepted, holds the potential to help both Google and its rivals--at least if they can match the new Google Instant interface.
Google Instant shows search results as a person types, refreshing the window contents as the search terms are added or modified, and Google is building it into Chrome's omnibox. That's a significant expansion over existing browser abilities to suggest completed search terms using a drop-down list.
Google now is proposing an interface to let others link people's search box use with instant-search results.
"We're adding instant search integration to Google Chrome, allowing the search provider to communicate suggestions to the user agent [browser]. If there is interest, we'd like to make sure that we do this in such a way that any search provider or user agent can implement it," Google programmer Tony Gentilcore said last week on a mailing list for WHATWG, the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group that has worked for years to advance Web technologies.
The interface would share information from the browser that the search engine needs before it can send instant-search results to the browser. Under the proposed interface, the information sent--to the default search engine only--would include potential search terms that have been typed in, the user's cursor location within them, and whether the user has changed search terms, hit the enter key, or selected an item with an arrow key.
The move shouldn't come as a huge surprise. On the defensive front, such an interface makes life harder for critics concerned that Google is benefiting from its search dominance in a way that its browser competitors can't. And on the offensive front, it could make it easier for Google to extend instant search results to other browsers.
It's not clear whether others will be interested, however.
Two days after raising the matter at WHATWG, Gentilcore mentioned the proposal on a mailing list for WebKit, the open-source browser engine used in Chrome, Apple's Safari, and many mobile browsers. He suggested a WebKit-wide interface that would faciltate the feature, but didn't drum up much enthusiasm.
"I do have an objection," Apple programmer Darin Adler said in his response. The feature is the kind of thing that is best suited for higher-level browser work based on WebKit, not the underlying engine itself, he said. "WebKit has an architecture that allows this to be done without WebKit code changes. I suggest we put this feature in browsers, not the engine."
Perhaps Microsoft would be more interested. Not only does it have a search engine it's trying to promote, but Its IE9 beta makes much more aggressive use of the combined search and address bar, displaying some search results as people type.