Friday, December 12, 2008

Google Chrome: A Point of Departure

Google (NSDQ: GOOG) Chrome officially got ratcheted up to a 1.0 release earlier today. The feature set may be meager compared to Firefox (e.g.: no plugins, yet), but it's only a starting point. And not just for something to be decked out with plugins, either.

This all started with some thought about the whole concept of "small is beautiful" or "less is more" -- however you want to put it -- in programming. It's a good place to start, but you can't always stay there. Users badger the programmers for this or that pet feature, and before long what started as a lean-and-mean piece of work has become top-heavy and potentially unstable. And soon a competitor comes along, someone who's stuck with the original plan of Keep It Simple, Silly, and you're back to where you started.

Here's where I think open source can be a big help, and I'll start with an open source project that's been constantly accused of succumbing to unneeded bloat: Firefox. It's not hard to expand on the core functionality of Firefox by writing extensions, but throw in too many and problems can arise. The folks at Flock took the Firefox source code and added a whole slew of social-networking extensions that would nominally be accomplished through plugins, but integrated them into the core as cleanly and efficiently as possible. If you want all that stuff, pick Flock; if you want to go with the original, go with Firefox. And any fixes that benefit one can in theory (and, typically, in practice) benefit both.

I'm seeing a similar future for Chrome, too. Rather than have a one-size-fits-all version, the Chrome we're getting now is going to be a point of departure for other projects that see the browser as a malleable vehicle, not a fixed destination. The same could be said of any number of other programs that serve as a major focal point for open source activity: OpenOffice, for instance, already has some of this going on with Symphony.

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