Google Chrome, the Back Story

4 minute read
Chelsi Nakano avatar

More browser news. Nothing about war or carnage, though. OK, maybe a little. Ben Goodger, whose internet celebrity is attributed to being one of the masterminds behind Google Chrome, gave a presentation about the browser at the Webstock conference this week.

After what started as a flurry of freakouts over security issues and a general concern over whether or not ‘Google’ was just a code name for CIA, the simple browser has settled into a cloud of overall contentment. Now that it’s doing quite well for itself, let’s talk about some of the reasoning behind its creation.

“Browsers Suck”

First of all, Goodger reported the main reason Google decided to build chrome was because “browsers suck”. You can relate, right? With all of the hubbub over widgets and add-ons and plug-ins and skins and customized this and that, even the ever-popular Firefox was getting too bloated. Who can resist “just one more plug-in,” even if that plug-in is something totally frivolous, like a flowerpot, or a fish tank, or freaky little spiders crawling all around your tabs.

Goodger made sure to acknowledge Google’s history of improving browsers through add-ons, but noted that when it came to Google Chrome the company wanted to start from the ground up. In this case, the old stand by “less is more” has definitely been taken into consideration.

Chrome: No Jank In the Trunk

Google’s official technical term for all of that extra hoo-ha and the resulting browser unresponsiveness is “jank”. And in order to be the least janky browser out there, they knew they had to come up with something brilliant. That brilliance is now called independently functioning tab processes, a feature that is growing in popularity like wildfire and has already been adopted by Internet Explorer 8. Basically, if one of your tabs crashes, because it functions alone, its fail will not bring down the whole house of cards. 

Goodger explained that the ability to “pre-emptively multi-task” applications provides high performance, stability and security. Plug-ins also process independently. With Google’s baseline of 200 milliseconds when it comes to startup speed, page load time and javascript execution, we can understand how something as innovative as independent processing resulted. And man, are we thankful.

Mantras And Stripping the UI

Can you picture all of the people in the Chrome lab chanting, “content, not chrome” over and over again during the development process? It probably wasn’t that intense, but it’s fun to imagine.

The obvious difference between Chrome’s UI and the UIs of other browsers is that it’s almost barren with its lack of menu buttons. Subtler differences include fewer popups and fewer options which can be off-putting at first, but as Goodger puts it, there are “better defaults.”

If focusing on content and then Chrome was mantra number one during the developmental stages, Goodger’s rule was mantra number two: “options are never an excuse for bad design”. On his blog he writes:

"A core value for us was to keep the number of options low. Obviously some options are necessary - your home page, your network settings, etc. Some things represent genuine user preferences and others represent configuration that might be specific to a given installation. What we didn't want to do was add a lot of choices that represented unresolved design decisions for the UI. This felt a little too much like "giving up" our responsibilities on the UI design team and making users to do our job."

Learning Opportunities

To reiterate these points he showed the following video from Japan at Webstock:



In the Works

Unofficially announced on Goodger's blog are a few things that may be under Chrome's hood, including an even further stripping of the UI. At this point it's hard to picture Chrome being even simpler than it already is, but with someone like Goodger who has experience with numerous other big browser names, we won't be surprised if he manages to blow us out of the water all over again.

Keep track of his progress (in addition to unrelated bits of his personal life, if you'd like) by visiting his site here.