Bring on the browser wars: Why I'm overjoyed about Google Chrome.

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Sept. 4 2008 4:29 PM

Bring on the Browser Wars!

Why I'm overjoyed about Google Chrome.

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I found some of Google's other user-interface tweaks more annoying than useful. Chrome places its row of tabs in the title bar, an area that in most apps isn't used for anything other than displaying the name of the program. This saves space on your screen, but it also eradicates one of the main ways people have grown accustomed to using tabs in browsers—you can't double-click the tab bar to open a new tab, like you can on every other multi-tab browser. (Double-clicking the bar in Chrome resizes the window.)

This is a quibble, obviously. Chrome is very much a work in progress, a beta program that I expect will improve dramatically in the months to come. It shares two advantages with Firefox: Chrome is open-source, meaning outside developers are free to extend and improve it. And Chrome includes a plug-in infrastructure that lets people create add-ons. Because it's new, neither of these features is very important yet. But if Chrome catches on, developers will likely build these and other great programs for it; theoretically, people could even take the best bits of Firefox and Chrome and build a single awesome browser.

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For Google, Microsoft, and Apple, the browser fight is a means to other ends. Microsoft, which holds more than three-quarters of the browser market, looks at the Web as an extension of its operating system. As more of our programs move online, Microsoft fears that we might have little reason to stick to Windows; it sees control of the browser as a way to control the future of software development. Google seems to want to be in the browser business to fight Microsoft. The company's revenue comes entirely from the Web, so it's got to be wary that most of its customers come through software created by its main rival. (Google substantially underwrites both Firefox and Opera, which both feature Google's search engine as the default.) Apple, meanwhile, needs a browser to beef up its own platform—not only on the Mac but also on its phones and iPods.

Sure, these aims aren't entirely noble. But who cares? As the giants duke it out to come up with the best product, they'll copy and improve upon each other's innovations, bringing new features to all browsers. Chrome's immunity to crashing, for instance, is sure to push both Mozilla and Microsoft to improve their browsers' stability. Perhaps soon you'll be able to load up any browser you like and watch two dozen YouTube videos at once without fearing a crash—you know, just like the Web was always meant to be used.

Correction, Sept. 7, 2008: This piece originally stated that Firefox 3.1 is "available in beta." The current release is an alpha version. ( Return to the corrected sentence.)

Correction, Sept. 8, 2008:This article incorrectly referred to a Firefox add-on as Tabs Mix Plus. It is Tab Mix Plus. (Return  to the corrected sentence.)

Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough.