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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