Brushed chrome – the story of Google’s browser in comic book form

What a stroke of genius to commission Scott McCloud to tell the story of Google’s new web browser, Chrome, in comic form.

McCloud’s own books have communicated his enthusiasm for the past, present and future of comics themselves. Now his fluid, conversational style perfectly captures the diverse passions of project team members – passions that gel together to create a finished (well OK, it’s Google, so it must be beta) product.

The Chrome comic is packed with exhibits in support of Google’s claim to have started from scratch with the browser, to “design something based on the needs of today’s web applications and today’s users”. Among them, four in particular struck a chord with me:

The PC and the browser are always on, which has implications for memory usage and management. The fragmentation problem created by current browsers “grows all day, as the lifetime of the browser extends.” “Have you tried turning it off and on again” is no longer an acceptable IT helpdesk solution.

The homepage is dead (long live the new tab!) Web users rely less and less on a single web page as their starting point, instead developing a habit of checking a handful of different sites whenever they go to the browser. Google’s nine-thumbnail “new tab” page is a neat response to the way we now use the web.

Some things are best forgotten. With all this personalisation, Google of all service providers must be ultra-aware of users’ privacy concerns. McCloud diplomatically chooses “Want to keep a surprise gift a secret” as the, ehem, discrete scenario to illustrate their solution to this user requirement.

Mobile is already starting to make the deskbound web a better place. Software engineer Darin Fisher is quoted: “We also knew there was a team at Google working on Android and we asked them, ‘Why did you guys use Webkit?'” So when it came to something as fundamental as the choice of a rendering engine, in a company self-proclaimed to “live on the Internet”, it turned out to be the mobile team that had the inside track. I’ve long believed that the PC-based web experience has lots to gain from applying some of the discipline of mobile.

… and finally a nostalgic aside: seeing Scott McCloud’s technical explanation of the principles behind Chrome reminded me of Donald Alcock’s delightfully hand-drawn and lettered “Illustrating Basic” which helped me get to grips with my BBC Micro as a boy. I’m determined my own Cbeebies-generation children should also have some exposure to programming languages, and make periodic attempts to divert them from iPlayer and AdventureQuest to Scratch!

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