Google says its Chrome browser could upend Microsoft's Internet Explorer, but also the way people access software, which poses a threat to Windows.
Challenge to Windows?
Google co-founder Sergey Brin said Chrome was designed to address the shift to using software from within a Web browser rather than as locally installed computer applications running inside Microsoft Windows or some other operating system.
"I think operating systems are kind of an old way to think of the world," Brin told a group of reporters after the news conference at Google's Mountain View, California headquarters. "They have become kind of bulky, they have to do lots and lots of different (legacy) things."
Google believes any task done in a standalone desktop computer application can be delivered via the Web and Chrome is its bet that software applications can be run via a browser.
"We (Web users) want a very lightweight, fast engine for running applications," Brin said.
"The kind of things you want to have running standalone (on a computer) are shrinking," he said, adding that he still edits photos on his computer rather than using a Web program.
Google Borrows from Apple, Firefox
Chrome borrows liberally from other browsers running open-source software code, including Apple and Firefox, and company officials said they planned to fully share Chrome code with other developers.
"We have borrowed good ideas from others," Google Vice President of Product Management Sindar Pichai said. "Our goal here was to bring our point of view, but do it in a very open way."
Because Chrome relies on Apple's open-source WebKit software for rendering Web pages, it can run any application that runs on Apple's Safari Web browser, Pichai said.
"If you are a webmaster, and your site works in Apple Safari then it will work very well in Google Chrome," he said.
Greg Sterling, a Web analyst with Sterling Market Intelligence, said Google's entry into the browser market has echoes of the bruising "browser wars" of the late 1990s, when Microsoft crushed Web pioneer Netscape Communications.
But while the competition between Microsoft and Google is likely to produce many improvements for consumers, the likely fallout from the battle will be other browser makers that have only recently begun to pry market share away from Microsoft.
Sterling said Firefox could become a victim of "friendly fire" from Google as many of its users are the same early adopters who are most likely to switch and try a new browser.
"Firefox has softened up and paved the way for Google. Without Firefox, Chrome would not be possible," Sterling said.
Brin said Google planned to continue to work closely with Mozilla, whose primary financial backing has come from Google in recent years. He said he hoped to see future versions of Chrome and Firefox become more unified over time.
Chrome organizes information into tabbed pages. Web programs can be launched in their own dedicated windows.
Among Chrome's features is a special privacy mode that lets users create an "incognito" window where "nothing that occurs in that window is ever logged on your computer," according to a Google promotional guide.
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