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Could Google's Chrome be death blow to Firefox?

No doubt, Google's forthcoming open source browser -- known as Chrome -- is going to challenge other open source browsers, most notably Firefox. It could be a devastating blow to Firefox, which has amassed and taken roughly 18 percent of browser market share away from Internet Explorer in a short time.
Written by Paula Rooney, Contributor on

No doubt, Google's forthcoming open source browser -- known as Chrome -- is going to challenge other open source browsers, most notably Firefox. It could be a devastating blow to Firefox, which has amassed and taken roughly 18 percent of browser market share away from Internet Explorer in a short time.

Although Google has been an ardent supporter of the Mozilla team, it appears that the online giant has decided to take on Microsoft with a full portfolio of web applications, rather than relying on other open source projects to fill in the gaps. Might this explain the recent departure of Mozilla's VP of Engineering Mike Schroepfer to Facebook?

Or is this a prelude to Google acquiring Mozilla? Google, after all, recently extended funding to Mozilla and someone must have been notified that Chrome was imminent. In a recent blog reflecting on Mozilla's 10 year anniversary, Mitchell Baker pointed to Google's support as a key indicator of its success: "Another important element is the financial resources Mozilla enjoys. We’ve just renewed our agreement with Google for an additional three years. This agreement now ends in November of 2011 rather than November of 2008, so we have stability in income," Baker wrote."

Chrome, which is launching into beta testing today, is a very full featured open source browser and is unique from Firefox in several respects.

First, it will have a private browsing feature known as Incognito, which allows users to browse in total privacy. It does not record sites visited or any aspect of the web session. (Firefox is working to include this feature in FF 3.1 but it's not there yet).

Google has taken the tab-style browsing metaphor used by Mozilla and Microsoft to a new level. Chrome's user interface features tabs on top, rather than windows containing tabs. The search panel -- dubbed an omnibox -- is the URL box at the top of each tab. Popups can be assigned to each tab to protect the integrity of each process. Like Mozilla Prism and Adobe AIR, Chome allows web applications to be launched in their own window without the URL search bar to allow web applications to run next to local software simultaneously.

Chrome also features multi-process support and contains a Javascript Virtual machine. Multi-process support is said to significantly improve the stability of browsers because it can support multiple web applications simultaneously and isolate each process in its own tab. If one web app crashes, for example, it won't take down the whole browser -- just the corrupted tab. Surfers can launch a process in one tab and go to work in another. The V8 Javascript Virtual Machine is designed for speed and supports the more substantial web applications of today.

Google's Chrome also features an open source rendering engine known as Webkit, the same engine used in Google's Android. This will no doubt make it easier to integrate Google's forthcoming mobile platform -- Android -- with the Google Desktop, now equipped with its own browser. This can't be good news for Firefox's "Fennec" team.

Larry Dignan of ZDnet suggests that perhaps Google and Mozilla are working together as a tag team to defeat Microsoft's Internet Explorer, and that Google may perhaps purchase the Mozilla Firefox crew and integrate the two code bases to deliver a kock out punch to Microsoft's IE. Will Mozilla become Google browser labs? Given the close cooperation of the two projects, it's more than possible.

If not, though, the debut of Chrome can't be good news for Firefox. Google has so much market momentum that it doesn't necessarily have to have the best open source browser to displace Firefox. And on the face of it, Chrome looks pretty good.

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