Mark Hansen has been a mentor for small homebased internet startups for years, and currently works in the curriculum development department of an internet training company, and does freelance SEO. He'll tackle common issues facing Small Office/Home Office (SOHO) entrepreneurs.
Thursday, September 04, 2008
Chrome, The Cloud, and My Computer
Google’s making big news again this week. They’ve entered the web browser wars.
A web browser is the program that you launch when you want to see websites. It allows you to type in an address, or click on an icon and retrieve the web page there and see it. Without your web browser, there would be no web. The web browser allows for the connectibility of documents, the interactivity of information, the sharing of media, and the transfer of money.
For a long time, the only web browser software that really got used in the world has been Microsoft Internet Explorer. True, there are other browsers. The only one to take a significant swipe at any sort of market share has been FireFox. Current tracking puts FireFox at about 18% of web use, with Safari, mostly Mac users, trail at a little over 6%. Not mentioning Opera and a few miscellaneous others, that leaves Microsoft with the lion’s share, at about 73%. That’s a sweet lead to have, for Microsoft.
And, now, to add to that, is Google’s Chrome, launched in beta test form just days ago, as of this writing.
I downloaded it, installed it, and played with it a little bit. So far, it seems to pretty much play like any other browser. The biggest noticeable difference is the lack of plugins and customization. It’s simply too new to have any of that stuff, so things that I rely on in FireFox, like TwitterFox (for managing my twitter tweets), or Foxmarks (a bookmark sync-ing system) aren’t there yet.
As I was reading about it at Google, and discovered that the biggest features are hidden, under-the-hood sorta stuff. One thing is that every tab in Chrome is a separate process in the computer’s mind. That means that it has it’s own memory block, and it’s own chip of processing time. That means that if one tab locks up, or gets some malware going in it, that tab can shut down or lock up, and the others will remain active. Currently, with MSIE and FF, if one goes down, the whole program locks and needs to be restarted.
Another part of the Chrome appeal is more about what it will be able to do in the future. It’s really been designed to be a platform for using web-based applications in a process that many have dubbed “Cloud Computing”. To understand that, we need to take a step back and talk about the ‘net of the past.
For years, now, as programmers have been talking about how programs and computers interact with the ‘Net, it has been referred to as “The Internet Cloud”. This is mostly due to the way that information is broken up and bundled into “packets” and tossed around the ‘Net. Individual packets go from server to viewer through different routes, from ‘net hub to ‘net hub, and finally get reassembled at the viewer’s browser. It’s really tough to know, for example, what hubs or even what countries your email might have gone through to get to your next-door neighbor. So, when we talk about the ‘net, we often say that something comes from “the cloud” or we upload something into “the cloud”, because we have no idea where it’s going or where it comes from.
Now, there’s a movement going on these days among software makers, and web companies, to make a big change in the way we use our computers. Take a simple thing like writing an article for a blog, or a company newsletter, for example. Rather than opening up a copy of MS Word that I have on my hard drive, I could jump to Chrome, and login to my account at Google. I could open up a document using the Google Docs word processor and type my article. When I save it, it would be saved on Google's servers. I could also save it to my local hard drive, if I wished. So, Instead of using a word processor on my own computer, I would use one on the web, and I would access it from the 'Net, using my web browser. That's how I wrote this article.
Currently, Google Apps includes a word processor, a spreadsheet, a form creator, and a presentation software. Google also has an online email app, as does Yahoo, MSN and many others. Clickincome's Clicksitebuilder is a web-based app to help you create your website.
Because all of these direct-use applications are hosted and used via the Internet, this is referred to as "Cloud Computing".
What are the advantages? Well, as a user, I can access my documents and my applications from anywhere that I have an Internet connection. I'm not tied down to one computer. Another big advantage is that, currently, it's free. I don't have to pay Google anything for the use of their software. Now, in the future, some software companies are looking at other models for funding the programs, like subscriptions or pay-per-use models. Others are seeing that it can remain free and be paid for by advertising revenues. Sure beats paying $200+ for MS Office!
The downside is that the online programs are not as robust in features as the desktop varieties yet. There is also a lot of debate over security. For example, if I'm hosting my files on Google's server, can they open it up and read it? Or is it protected?
The biggest feature of the Chrome Browser is it's future possibilities. It's being designed from the ground up to be a working base from which Cloud Computing apps can be run. Currently, many of these apps have to struggle to make themselves compatible with current browsers. With a solid platform like Chrome, it's possible that web-based computing can really take off.
That is, assuming that Google can get enough users to jump to using Chrome. That all remains to be seen, of course.