Nov 10, 2011

Chrome is the Best Thing for the Web since 2004

A little disclaimer to begin. I don't use Chrome. Despite the fact that it is damn fast, reliable, and tends to pick up new web features faster than any other browser, I prefer to limit my dependence on Google and so I will stick to the more open Firefox for my web needs.

That doesn't mean that Chrome isn't great. However contrary to what you might think, I'm not making the case that it is great because of the reasons I listed above. Instead, Chrome is great because it provides a worthwhile competitor to Firefox. It wasn't hard for Firefox to be amazing in 2004 when the only other widely used browser was IE6. It wasn't even fair. All that Mozilla had to do was make the browser not suck by having decent security, a Google search bar, extendability and tabbed browsing and you're set. Later on Firebug came out to make web development hugely more productive (think, Javascript error output that is actually useful!)

However after that, Firefox didn't really change all that much. That is, until Chrome came out and the new browser "arms race" started. Now we are seeing huge improvements to what the web is capable of in record time - audio APIs, web sockets, 3D graphics, etc. We can now use the web to build rich applications that before we either needed Flash/Java, or we had to stick to building a plain-old desktop application. I've even tried writing simple financial software using Javascript, and it actually works really well - you can receive a data feed directly from the exchange and have it appear in real time in an HTML table. Beautiful!

What's even better about this arms race compared to the one in the 90's is that Mozilla and Google are actually cooperating to make sure that things are standardized. None of the old problems where Netscape would use one name but IE would use a different one - no, now we know that after the APIs become stable there will be efforts to standardize them across the more modern browsers.

One thing I've deliberately left out of the discussion is Internet Explorer. It continues to be developed, but as is typical of the IE team there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of effort to make it compatible with the things that Google and Mozilla are building. I think that the web would be better off if developers showed a bit of defiance and just decided to ignore Internet Explorer: focus on building amazing applications for the browsers that are actually pleasant to use. The users of those browsers will be much happier that way, and more people would migrate to those browsers when they see that they can have a much richer web experience that way. To quote some advice I've heard from various VCs and startups, "focus on making a few people very happy than trying to get a lot of ambivalent users."

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