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Google’s chrome-plated bulldozer

This article appears in the issue January 2009, [Vol 18, Issue 1]
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Hang out with Web software developers and you hear talk about chrome. You may think about automobile bumpers and hood ornaments. Not that chrome. The programmers are talking about user interface elements, the bits of code that present buttons, text and colors to the human with the computing device.

Google’s Chrome is an application that provides a Google interface to the expanding, fast-changing world of Google applications. If you think of Chrome as a browser, it would be convenient … but incorrect. As Google said in its own blog: "What we really needed was not just a browser, but also a modern platform for Web pages and applications, and that’s what we set out to build."

Consider that Chrome can be used to put an icon on your computer’s desktop or eventually on your mobile computing device. When you click that icon, an application launches. If you did not know that the icon evoked Chrome, then assuming adequate bandwidth, you would find no difference between a locally installed application like a word processor or list of contacts in your address book and the application enabled via Chrome.

There’s a big difference, and that is the reason Chrome is important for organizations.

Let’s back up. Most organizations use locally installed applications. On-premises installations of software are expensive, demand the time and attention of overworked information technology professionals, and often conflict with other software in unexpected ways. The frazzled IT professionals send stress signals for a good reason. Most enterprise software is a toothache, and the dentists can’t make the pain go away. Even worse, most organizations have a half dozen or more of those software behemoths stomping around in their infrastructure. Those huge software systems can misbehave, even kill one another’s data. When payroll can’t produce checks and when the eager beavers in marketing cannot e-mail a PowerPoint, the IT department is the problem.

Now consider that Chrome makes it possible to put the icon on users’ desktops. A click launches what looks and feels like a local application. The difference is that the icon connects to the network. The networks do whatever security handshakes are required. The application is available to the user. Chrome also includes Google’s Gears technology, which allows users to continue working with Gears-enabled Web applications even when an Internet connection isn’t available. Those include Google Docs and Google Reader—with support coming for Gmail
and Google Calendar—as well as non-Google Web applications like Remember the Milk and WordPress.

That approach represents a 180-degree change in how most organizations deploy software and services. The shift promises to deliver significant cost reductions. For one thing, an organization could do without some of those crazed IT people who can’t make the on-premises systems work like they are supposed to. The new approach implies significant gains in productivity. If a system is not available, expensive people are not working. When the system is available, presumably that downtime is no longer a sunk cost. The red ink turns a deep black again.

Here’s what Google has to say about Chrome:

  • The basic browser setup runs complex applications in separate tabs. If one crashes, the rest of the program continues to operate.
  • They improved the speed and responsiveness.
  • A new, more powerful JavaScript engine drives applications.
  • This is only the beginning.

Google can, if it chooses, deploy via Chrome such enterprise functions as mobile geospatial applications for mom-and-pop delivery companies, replace expensive and flaky desktop word processing programs, and hook together different devices for e-mail and other types of communications.

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