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A Chrome-Plated Browsing Experience

A conversation with Google’s Brian Rakowski on speed, simplicity and security

Google Chrome may be the new kid on the browser block, but it’s no technological neophyte. Chrome focused from the beginning on speed and has raised that bar for all browsers, to the delight of users everywhere. Today, it’s the fastest-growing Web browser in adoption, adding 50 million users in the second half of 2010 and now comfortably into double-digit market share. Unlike other browsers, which introduce new versions with much fanfare, Google quietly and consistently updates Chrome on a regular schedule. Benchmark conducted an electronic interview with Chrome Director of Product Management Brian Rakowski to talk about Google’s approach to browser development and to get his perspective on the overall state of the browser market.

Benchmark: Chrome enjoys a reputation as being the fastest browser, and you’re continuously updating it. What are the latest changes you’ve made to improve performance? And how does Chrome performance compare to the newest versions of IE and Firefox?

Brian Rakowski: We’re continuously improving Chrome, making it faster, safer, and easier to use with each subsequent update. With an early release schedule that brings new updates to all users every 6 weeks, we’re able to ensure new features get to users as soon as they are ready.

Specifically, our latest stable release includes support for hardware-accelerated 3D CSS, which means you’ll get a snazzier experience in some Web pages and Web apps that choose to implement 3D effects. And our release just a few months ago introduced a 66% improvement in JavaScript performance on the V8 benchmark suite.

Benchmark: How do the underlying technologies that impact performance differ among the major browsers?

Brian Rakowski: All major browsers require the same core set of technologies – a rendering engine, a JavaScript engine, and a set of features providing the browser functionality users have come to expect. We’ve done a lot of work to optimize our JavaScript engine for speed using a number of experimental techniques that had never been applied to a language like JavaScript before. We also designed Chrome from the beginning with a multi-process architecture which runs each tab independently – that way if one page crashes, it only brings down that tab, rather than the entire browser, improving stability.

Benchmark: In what ways do you feel Chrome has advanced the overall state of browsers? Where are you out in front?

Brian Rakowski: From the beginning we’ve focused on making Chrome a leader in speed, simplicity and security, and we think we’ve had a lot of success in spurring innovation in all these areas – from a renewed industry focus on speed, to faster release cycles for all browsers, to a growing movement to design user interfaces that emphasize simplicity and ease of use.

Benchmark: Aside from performance, in what ways do you feel Chrome has enhanced the user experience for browsers? What research or thinking guided the UI design?

Brian Rakowski: As we designed the UI for Chrome, our philosophy was ‘content not chrome’ – we want the browser to load the page quickly and then get out of the way, so that it is almost invisible. We’ve done a lot of work in this area by minimizing the ‘chrome’ of the browser – the edges of the browser where all the controls are – and by bringing tabs to the top of the window where they make more sense conceptually. We also simplified the search and navigation experience by introducing the omnibox, so users don’t need to think about which box to use depending on whether they want to type a search query or a URL.

Benchmark: Firefox 4 introduces app tabs, and IE9 has rolled out ‘pinned sites.’ Both seem to have the goal of creating an ‘app experience’ for users, with one-click access, and delivery and persistence that is more like an app and less like the browser. And Chrome has the app store. Please compare and contrast the Chrome apps with these other approaches. How do you see this trend in user-browser interaction – towards app-like experiences – evolving?

Brian Rakowski: Many of these features have also been available in Chrome for years. When we first launched Chrome we included a feature to easily launch a site from your desktop called ‘app shortcuts.’ As a whole, it’s clear that amazing innovation is taking place on the Web, and Web applications are quickly becoming the preferred computing model. This recognition is what led us to start developing Chromebooks, which will go on sale later this month.

Benchmark: What new features or functionality are being considered for future releases of Chrome? What hints can you give us?

Brian Rakowski: We’re working hard on continuing to make Chrome faster. We’re also working on our security features – for example, plugins like Flash run in a partial sandbox, and we hope to move to a fully sandboxed solution soon.

Benchmark: Today, developers have to make sure their sites work well in at least four major browsers. How does Chrome make that process easier or harder?

Brian Rakowski: When we launched Chrome in 2008, one of our goals was to minimize the inconvenience to developers in needing to support a new browser. To that end we built Chrome on top of the same rendering engine as Safari, so that developers can just make sure their site supports Webkit and it will work in both browsers.

Benchmark: What advice do you have for developers to make sure their sites deliver a fast, pleasing, successful experience for users regardless of what browser is being used?

Brian Rakowski: In general, we recommend developers build to the standards rather than trying to tailor their sites to each browser – new functionality in technologies like HTML5 allow developers to build innovative new Web apps that will be supported in all modern browsers. We also have a number of resources for webmasters to help improve the speed and performance of their site as part of our ‘Make the Web Faster’ campaign at:http://code.google.com/speed/articles/

Benchmark: How do you see the browser landscape evolving a year from now? Five years from now?

Brian Rakowski: Years from now, I expect the browser to support many of the features that a desktop PC has — offline storage, near instant responsiveness, easy real-time communications, and more.

About Brian Rakowski

Brian Rakowski is director of product management for Google Chrome. He joined Google in July 2002 as the company’s first Associate Product Manager and worked on the Gmail team until late 2004. After spending 6 months in Switzerland at Google’s Zurich office, he returned to Mountain View to work on the Client Software team. Brian grew up outside of Chicago, IL and moved to the Bay area in 1998 to attend Stanford University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Symbolic Systems and a master’s degree in Psychology.

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