% fortune -ae paul murphy

Chrome, IE8, and longer term thinking

As millions of web developers and others are now discovering, IE8 invokes "security" to break, or at least red tab, a lot of existing web and investigative technology -making it harder, for example, for companies like google (and zdnet) to accurately count page reads while teaching users, as Vista itself does, to ignore security related warnings.

In the long term web site operators will simply have to adapt to IE8, but in the short term there'll be the usual handwringing, palliative Microsoft announcements, and vociferous longing for practical alternatives.

One of the those is, of course, Firefox - and we can expect others like Opera, Safari, and Konqueror to grow in market share too, but the most recent entry from Google merits special attention first because it's from Google and secondly because it reveals some interesting things about how Google sees its future.

They called it "Chrome", presumably because it's intended to become the chrome edging around Google's vision of the user interface for cloud computing and all reports it's pretty cool - and a lot more standards compliant than IE8 which, in one of those 1984 inspired Microsoft word meaning reversals treats public standards compliance as "quirky" and its own proprietary extensions as standard.

On the other hand, a better name for the thing might have been "Janus", both because it faces the user on one side the screen and the server on the other and, rather more importantly, because it simultaneously looks forward to Google's future and is backwards in terms of conceptual thinking, technology, and marketing.

The looking backwards part is harder to see than the cloud client business - but, I think, is probably both more revealing and more important. On the surface the technology is mainly from Apple and the Firefox people and much of that is clearly both pretty good and just far enough behind the leading edge to avoid much of the bleeding. Great, but look deeper and you see a process mimicking Microsoft's marketing schtick in which other people's work is retroactively adopted, made to look new, and then popularized for financial gain.

Thus early reports suggest Chrome isn't really ready yet for prime time - but you can see why they kicked the beta out now knowing that IE8 is going to churn the market. Less obviously, however, they're following their usual client development pattern: offering product for XP/Vista while only promising product for Linux while not even mentioning Solaris and the BSDs.

If you don't think about it much you might think doing the Wintel product first makes business sense, but it doesn't. The right order for almost any code product these days is to do the generic version first, compile and test that under an open source environment like Linux, and then spin-off custom variations for specific markets like Vista or MacOS X.

The rule in logic, science, and commercial code development is to always reason from the general to the specific - in the commercial IT development case from a code base that compiles on almost anything, to variants that compile for specific target environments like XP/2003, OpenBSD, or Solaris. In other words, everything they're doing with Chrome, from market management to doing the specific OS releases before the generic one, is logically backwards - and combines with the IE8 driven release strategy to illustrate, I think, just how far Google as gone toward becoming a reactive, rather than proactive, market driver.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.