Is Google Chrome Right For Your Business?

When Microsoft first developed its Internet Explorer browser in 1995, the web was a very different environment. Now the static text-based pages of the early days have evolved into interactive applications that blur the line between online and offline, the team at Google felt it was time to reinvent the browser. In September this year the first beta version of its Chrome browser for PCs was released as an open-source free download.

Microsoft still has around 80% of the market, and almost everyone else is using its main competitor, Mozilla’s Firefox. Just four days after Chrome’s launch it was suggested that Google had already taken 1% of the market, but there’s still a very long way to go before Chrome is considered a real player, let alone a serious rival to Internet Explorer.

Reviews have been largely favorable but before business users get too excited about the shiny new browser and rush to switch, there are a number of considerations.

One of Google’s core aims for Chrome is for it to be more secure than other browsers. Chrome regularly downloads updates of two blacklists for phishing and malware, and warns users when they attempt to visit a harmful site. Chrome also has a private browsing mode, Incognito, that prevents the browser from storing history information and cookies from the websites visited.

Chrome’s developers rejected the way browsers have traditionally been built and came up with an architecture where every tab, site and plug-in has its own separate process. This prevents malicious software from installing itself: a harmful program running in one tab is unable to ’sniff’ credit card numbers, interact with the mouse, or tell Windows to run it on start-up, and will be terminated when the tab is closed. This has the additional benefit of making the browser much less likely to crash – a real weakness of Internet Explorer – and so meets Google’s second aim of making a more stable browser.

Stability is also strengthened by Chrome being very PC-memory friendly, with a process management tool called ‘Task Manager’ that allows users to see which sites are taking the most memory and downloading the most bytes. This could help businesses that have to deal with hundreds of workers going to demanding sites to control access to websites that are simply too demanding for their network and internet connection.

Google’s third aim was speed. It wanted Chrome to be super-fast, and tests against Firefox 3, Internet Explorer 7 and 8, and Safari, show it does indeed function faster.

While Chrome does what Google set out to do, however, a number of concerns have already surfaced. The most alarming of these as far as businesses were concerned was a clause in Chrome’s licensing agreement that appeared to give Google the right to do whatever it wanted with all content loaded onto commercial websites through Chrome. When this was flagged up, Google immediately modified the small print to remove the offending sections. It also acted fast to remedy a serious flaw that allowed a malicious web page to crash the whole browser.

These two potential problems are a side-effect of Chrome’s current incarnation being a beta, or test, version of the software. In other words, by Google’s own admission it’s very much a work in progress, and while issues from security glitches to web pages and applications that don’t work properly on Chrome are to be expected, this may deter companies from embracing a piece of software that is still a little rough around the edges. The flip side of this is that because Chrome is open-source, anyone can edit and improve the code, so in theory an IT manager could add a security update without waiting for Google to fix the problem.

The fact that that Chrome isn’t Internet Explorer also has good and bad points for business. As well as avoiding the frequent crashes Microsoft’s browser is known for, companies that like to avoid Microsoft in general may like to see another alternative, particularly from Google, which can do no wrong in many eyes. But most businesses are immersed in the world of MS applications and development tools. Internet Explorer is not only the default browser of their IT infrastructure, but is required to get full functionality from their other software.

This question of compatibility extends further: the current version of Chrome is for PC only, and although Google is working on versions for Mac and Linux, this rules Chrome out at the moment for any businesses – including in many creative sectors – that run on these operating systems. Chrome is also not viable if your business runs on ActiveX web applications, as it does not support ActiveX.

Chrome’s user interface has some interesting features which might help employees work faster and smarter. Some reviewers have said it really understands what people want to do with a browser, with features like the ‘Omnibar’ search function, and thumbnail views of the nine most visited sites and recent bookmarks. And when users create a shortcut for a web application, Chrome strips away all of the toolbars and tabs, leaving something that feels much more like a desktop application than the internet. But other features we’ve become used to are not yet included, such as a way to manage bookmarks, a command for emailing links and pages directly from the browser, and even the progress bar to show how much of a web page has loaded.

Chrome is to be admired for its speed, elegance and usefulness. It’s a re-imagining of the browser to reflect the way individuals use the internet, and despite some problems it’s been received well. Companies may consider Chrome too young to even think about switching from Internet Explorer or Firefox just yet, but there’s no doubt business users will be watching with interest to see what Google does next to buff up even more of a shine on its first browser.

Jeff Smith is the managing director of Karma Technologies, a green web company that gets YOUR business to GOOGLE PAGE 1!


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