Google Chrome: Why I’m Not Excited

There is currently a massive amount of buzz around Google’s recently launched browser, Google Chrome. And why not? It’s a new WebKit based browser with a clean minimalist UI and a purportedly super fast V8 Javascript interpreter. To top it off, each webpage executes in its own process and it’s made by Google! It’s the next step in the battle to legitimize web based applications as viable replacements for their desktop counterparts.

Why am I not excited? Adoption rates aside, the big reason is that Chrome’s V8 is not the kind of Javascript engine I would like to see in the next generation of web-browsers. Don’t get me wrong, I fully believe that V8 will be one of the fastest Javascript engines out there, but it’s in its optimizations where the problem lies. When V8 interprets Javascript, it transitions directly from Javascript source code to machine code. There is no intermediate bytecode format! This means that Chrome is designed around Javascript as the be-all end-all language. Chrome isn’t just bad news for Adobe, it’s bad news for developers in general.

In my ideal world, the next generation web-browser will have a generic, standardized bytecode format to which Javascript is compiled, but also such that it will leave the option open for compilers for other languages-- a la the good old JVM.  Imagine if you could write the client-side portion of a website using your language of choice, e.g. Ruby, Python, or even Scala (my personal favorite/hobby language). I have high hopes that something like Mozilla and Adobe’s collaborative effort, Tamarin, will turn into this.

As the client-side portion of websites becomes increasingly complex, it also scares me to think that everyone will be monogamously tied to Javascript. Without letting this post turn into a language rant, I am obliged to say that Javascript is in desperate need of better tooling and debugging support; I also feel that Javascript is hard to use and maintain on large, intensive projects, but maybe that’s just me. I realize that the last few sentences sound like cookie-cutter arguments against dynamic languages in general, but I’ll save that for another post.

As of late, as an alternative to Javascript, I have been doing most of my client-side programming in Flash using AS3 and the Flex SDK, not so much for the additional features as for the streamlined development process. AS3 is based on ECMA script, on which Javascript is based as well, but the support for namespaces, optional static typing, and better IDE support (Flex Builder) makes me much more prolific. Let’s also face it: all the major web-browsers are totally dependent on Flash, if not just for serving video, and that’s not going to change any time soon. Google knows this and adds the flash plug-in to Chrome automatically. Ironically, it is Flash and other plug-ins which break Chrome’s pristine process model, since the grandfathered-in plug-in architecture requires less restricted access.

On the bright side however, I have been using Chrome as my default browser for the last couple of days and have had an overall good experience. In terms of UI, it is a nice incremental improvement over other browsers. Combining the search into the address bar more intelligently is extremely convenient and long overdue. I also really like having the tabs on the top of the page.

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