Saturday, January 31, 2009

PREDICTION: Google Chrome Web Browser Will Be A Hit Among Netbook And Subnotebook Users

Because of the following (incomplete) list of reasons, I believe that Google's new Web browser, named Chrome, will be a hit among Netbook, and Subnotebook (alias minilaptop & ultraportable) users: -
  1. Minimalist user interface: In contrast to other contemporary Web browsers (especially Firefox 3.0, and to a lesser extent, Internet Explorer 8, Safari 3.x and Opera 9.x), Chrome 1.x has a lean / minimalist user interface that does away with the title bar, the file-edit bar, and the status bar. The result is a UI that consumes non-insignificantly less display space, allowing a larger proportion of the display area to be devoted to the webpage / Web-application being used by the user. Netbooks typically have display size <=10 inches (measured diagonally), and this characteristic of Chrome should result in a significantly improved Web experience, relative to that provided by competing browsers such as Firefox 3.
  2. Reduces effort required by users: Chrome includes features that reduce the amount of effort required on the part of users, to get to various webpages or Web-applications. The Omnibox (a multipurpose box on the top of Chrome's UI) acts as a search box too, so a user doesn't have to make any effort to select a separate search box, or to go to a search engine such as Google. Omnibox displays suggestions for typed queries, which can potentially reduce the amount of additional typing required. Finally, as a user types a URL or a query, Omnibox displays results from the user's search and URL history, again reducing the effort required on the part of the user. The default new tab page, which displays a list of recent bookmarks, recently closed tabs, and thumbnails of 9 most visited websites, is another feature that has the potential to reduce the amount of typing required. Netbooks typically have keyboards and touchpads that are smaller than those found on standard-sized laptops, and this reduced need to type and click should result in an improved Web experience for users.
  3. Faster rendering of webpages and Web-applications: One of the most hailed features of Chrome is its V8 JavaScript engine. This engine is able to execute JavaScript code significantly faster than competing browsers such as Internet Explorer 8, Opera 9.x, and Firefox 3.0. Chrome uses WebKit as its layout engine, which allows it to render non-JavaScript code fast as well (Safari also uses WebKit). This increase in speed of rendering webpages and running Web-applications results in an improved user experience for users, especially on those webpages and Web-applications that make heavy use of JavaScript and other code. Netbooks typically have CPUs that are significantly slower than those in standard laptops, and the increased rendering and JS execution speed that Chrome brings (on relatively slower processors - on which competing browsers are expected to give a relatively sluggish experience) should result in a significantly better Web experience in Chrome, compared to competing browsers.
  4. Improved system memory management: Google Chrome uses a multi-process model, and reclaims all the system memory that was being used by a tab, when that tab is closed. This model - although it has the disadvantage of an increased memory overhead for each tab - is overall better than the single-process model used in competing browsers such as Firefox 3.x and Opera 9.x, because as tabs are closed in Chrome, all the memory in use is reclaimed. This is not true for single-process browsers such as Firefox 3.0 or Safari 3.x. Unless a user opens too many tabs, this model should be able to consume less memory on an average. Netbooks typically have significantly less RAM compared to standard laptops, and the improved memory management / reclamation features of Chrome should result in a visibly improved experience for users, especially relative to competing browsers such as Safari 3.x and Firefox 3.x, which do not reclaim all of the memory used in past.
It can be observed that almost all of Chrome's strengths result from its ability to use the hardware resources more efficiently. On Netbooks, whose very essence is small (small form factor, small display, small keyboard, lesser memory, slower CPU, slower GPU, etc.), Chrome should be able to provide an experience that no other contemporary browser can. These reasons also apply to Subnotebooks, albeit to a lesser extent.

A key barrier to the success of Chrome on Netbooks and Subnotebooks is awareness about it among the general public. As of now, Chrome is hardly known outside the set of tech-savvy computer users. As users receive Netbook machines loaded with a flavor of Windows OS, whether they choose to download, install and use Chrome, or resort to the bundled-by-default IE, depends on Google's ability to make Chrome as well known as its flagship search engine.

To partially mitigate the above barrier, it makes sense for Google to strike deals with Netbook vendors such as ASUS, Acer, etc., to include Chrome as the default Web browser. Netbook users who are not familiar with Chrome may initially find it alien; however they should be able to find their Web experience noticeably degraded if they try switching to other browsers (because of aforementioned reasons). This should bring these users back to Google Chrome. The slowly-gained familiarity with Chrome may convert some or many of them to Chrome on their regular computing machines as well.

Update 4-2-09: For the reasons mentioned previously for Netbooks and Subnotebooks, Chrome should provide an improved Web experience on other computing devices, such as MIDs and UMPCs.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Commercialization Of Open Source Poses A Serious Threat To Vendors Of Proprietary Software

I've been observing the developments taking place in the packaged software landscape for some years now, and an interesting practice that I (and probably others) have noticed is the commercialization of open source software, by rivals of well-established proprietary software vendors.

A partial list of examples of this practice (sorted alphabetically): -
  1. Adobe Flex Builder - Eclipse
  2. Adobe Integrated Runtime - WebKit
  3. Apple Mac OS X - BSD
  4. Apple Safari - KHTML / WebKit
  5. Borland JBuilder - Eclipse
  6. Google Andriod - Linux / WebKit
  7. Google Chrome - WebKit
  8. Google Picasa (for Linux) - Gecko
  9. IBM Lotus Symphony - Eclipse /
  10. Red Hat Linux - Linux
  11. Zend Studio - Eclipse
Another form of commercialization of open source software is when vendors write add-ons / extensions / plug-ins for open source software, that add useful features to a particular open source software, and are paid. For example, a vendor creates a $9.99 plug-in for GIMP, that adds the Liquify feature to GIMP, or a vendor that creates a $19.99 plug-in for, that allows it to import and edit PDF files.

What are the implications of these practices?
  1. Catapult effect: Vendors such as Google, which otherwise would've taken months or maybe years to build (from scratch) feature-rich yet stable versions of their software products (in case of Google, these are Andriod, Chrome, Picasa for Linux, etc.), can now come out with refined and souped-up versions of open source software - in mere weeks. Time saving apart, potentially millions of dollars in development and testing is also saved. I would go as far as to say that open source software is a blessing for vendors such as Google - so while most of the evolutionary and maintenance work is done by third-parties, Google (and others) get to eat the fruit. The "lead", which vendors such as Adobe and Microsoft used to have over other vendors, matters less now in those areas where rival vendors have commercialized open source software. Imagine a vendor coming up with a slick photo-editing software, based on GIMP, which removes all the annoyances of GIMP.
  2. Customer concerns about support & services: Why are many enterprises and SMBs wary of adopting open source software? One of the major reasons is support & services. Commercialization of open source software mitigates this concern. Take Red Hat Linux, or CollabNet Subversion - these come with support & service options, just like those from vendors such as HP / Microsoft. And this largely eliminates a key barrier to adoption of open source software.
  3. The Long Tail: Yet another effect of commercialization of open source software is the development of software packages targeted at niche markets. These specialized versions of open source software (or standard versions used with a combination of paid plug-ins) appeal to users with specialized needs. Anyone familiar with The Long Tail should be able to grasp the meaning of what I'm trying to say. So using the same KHTML / WebKit code, different vendors have come up with software development tools that are "specialized" - Chrome, Epiphany, iCab, Midori, OmniWeb, Safari, etc.
In summary, commercialization of open source software poses a real, a serious threat to those vendors, which are hell bent on developing and selling proprietary software built from scratch. They call it reinventing the wheel.

P.S. I wrote this post in SRWare Iron browser (a fork of the open source Chromium browser, on which Google Chrome too is based)

Friday, January 02, 2009

Analysis Of Skill-Increment Required To Win A Losing Quake III Arena Match

I've recently started playing Quake III Arena, and I'm already liking it a lot. I was playing a deathmatch in which there were only 2 players - me and a bot. The bot had scored 15 frags while I had scored 10 in the same time. The limit of frags was 20.

Let's mathematically analyze the increment required in my fragging/killing/playing skill (in percentage terms), to be able to win this match, to find out if I have any chance of winning this match.

I played 66.67% as good as the bot (since I scored 10 frags while he scored 15 - in same time). If I continue to play same way, I will have got 3.33 frags in the time he gets 5 - and he shall win the match. To be able to win, I need to score 10 frags in the time he scores 5 (his frag score should tend to 5, but shouldn't actually touch 5 - else he would win). This means I need to play twice as good as he has played so far, to be able to win this match. Sad! Also, compared to my own past performance, I need to play an astounding 200% better [{(10/3.33)*100}-100] to win the match.

This explains why - having reached this point - the chances of me winning this match are narrow.

However, this analysis would not have been true had the bot scored 3 frags and I had scored 2 (although even in that case I would've played 66.67% as good as him). This is because the confidence with which it can be said that I played 66.67% as good as the bot is very low for small number of frags such as 2 or 3, whereas in the case number of frags is 10 or 15, the confidence increases.

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

Google's Evil Quest As The Default Search Engine In Microsoft Internet Explorer 7

Today I uninstalled Google Toolbar 5 from my IE 7 (it made the already cluttered interface of IE 7 look more cluttered). After that, I performed a reset on of IE 7, using this inbuilt feature

I hoped that doing this - after uninstalling Google Toolbar - would undo every customization that Google Toolbar had done to IE 7. It turned out that even after uninstalling Google Toolbar and resetting IE 7, two leftover things persisted.

First annoyance - and this is a disturbing one - is that even after resetting IE 7, Google continues to be the default search engine, and Google-as-the-default-search-engine cannot be changed (also, all other search engines I had manually added got removed - except Google)

Secondly, Google Toolbar Notifier - this program remains in Program Files (although I did not find a running instance of the executable in Task Manager)

At Google Operating System, I had read this and this post, and after my today's observation, it is easy to conclude that Google has not corrected all the "bugs" in its toolbar (most likely on purpose). Google may be taking every clever step to maintain an image of a good boy, but its actions speak loudly that the company does engage into evil practices.

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