2008-09-02

UPDATE: Google Chrome: Good or evil? -- GOOD!

UPDATE: You can find the update to this article at its bottom.

Even though Google's slogan is "don't be evil" I am not entirely sure whether this also applies to their newest development: the Google Chrome browser.

The announcement over at the Official Google Blog tells us that Google is about to release a Free Software-based browser. When I first read the announcement I wasn't too impressed reading that Google has actually built a browser, this was logical and I have been expecting this move for years. Also, reading that they based their browser on Free Software didn't impress me too much either, but then I found the comic.



The comic contains a lot of information about the browser's architecture and I like the design. It makes perfectly sense, even though it could create some memory and processing overhead, but don't all major browsers consume "quite some" ressources? So, from a technical point of view, the browser sounds great, but there is a huge downside too.

The product announcement says that the browser is not only built upon Free Software, but is Free Software itself. Now, this sounds good, but then I had to read this:
This is just the beginning -- Google Chrome is far from done. We're releasing this beta for Windows to start the broader discussion and hear from you as quickly as possible. We're hard at work building versions for Mac and Linux too, and will continue to make it even faster and more robust.

I don't want to start nit-picking on the use of the term "Linux" for describing the GNU/Linux operating system there, even though I have to mention this fact.

What really bothers me is that it seems as if a binary-only release for Windows is being prepared, and only this binary version. In my opinion this is bad. I would rather have liked reading "a binary beta version for Windows will be made available along with the source code licensed under the terms of the <insert your favourite Free Software license here>".
Why? Because this way people could start tinkering with the code and thus help making a GNU/Linux version available sooner. Not seeing the code released makes the "Free Software" promise sound void.

Though nothing has happened yet. Google has merely announced the upcoming release of Google Chrome. No details have been made available whether the code will be released along with the Windows binary, but I fear we won't be getting hold of the code for a while.

This leads me to the title of this article: Is Google Chrome good or evil?
Well, if Google keeps the promise to release Chrome under a Free Software license and does so rather sooner than later I believe Google Chrome should not only be called "good". It would then qualify as a real alternative to Mozilla Firefox  and could even be superior to Firefox.
On the other hand, if Google does not release the code timely, releases the code under a proprietary license or does not release the code at all Chrome could and possibly should be tagged "evil".

Personally I am awaiting the release of Google Chrome. I would like to test it, see the code, maybe dig a bit into it and possibly make it my browser-of-choice. The reason for this is quite simple: I am tech-savvy and the technology used in Google Chrome sounds more than just interesting, but could actually be a step forward for the web. Both in increased usability for the user and the use of Free Software and Free Standards as a way to help the web evolve. If Google doesn't keep the Free Software promise though, expect me not to ever though that evil beast.

UPDATE (September 3, 2008 at 7:44am CET):

Now that Chrome has been released Google apparently did also release the source code to Chrome, Chromium. The chromium project page can be found here, the Google Chrome home page here.
Now it seems as if Google did make Chromium a Free Software browser (seems because I have not yet come around to downloading the tarball and checking the contents, but I do believe it actually is Free Software and for me there is no reason not to believe that anymore).

I am more than just happy with this because, as I pointed out in this article already, Google Chrome or Chromium does have an interesting architecture and should, in my opinion, be embraced by the Free Software community. The reason I am happy is not only the fact that it is Free Software, but rather that a company like Google does release a lot Free Software these days and personally I hope other companies will start following this example soon. Thanks Google for taking this step!

So to make it short: Google Chrome? Not evil, good!

Now a short word to the commenters of this article: Most comments have been helpful and I really appreciated them. Sorry that an update to this article took so long, but I'm living in Europe and was asleep while all the things you mentioned have happened.

18 comments:

  1. You're a wank.

    When there's something to bitch about you can bitch.

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  2. The fact that you can measure a company's "evilness" on whether they publish the source code to their software right away is laughable.

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  3. Considering that this software comes from a company who's main business is advertising and user behaviour analysis, if no source code comes along, who guarantees us that they won't apply the same technology they have in their search engine to the browser itself, and then start to not only record everything we search (which they do now) but also record everything we browse (which they kind of do now with their cookies and AddSense but there are ways around it)

    I really hope they will turn out to be good, because the design architecture seems very good.

    Another doubt I have is the impact it will have in the fragmentation of the operative system managed memory space, since instead of a big process we will have tons of small ones, and this might have an impact on the rest of the system as well.

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  4. The source code for it has already been released. There are even build instructions for Mac and Linux users. Google likes the philosophy of keeping everything simple. Why put something on a page that will not be needed by the masses, or something not legally required?

    Source code / Developer community: http://dev.chromium.org/Home

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  5. Just after reading your article, I saw an 'Open Source' link in the footer of the Google Chrome website, it leads to http://code.google.com/chromium/ where if you follow the 'source code' link to http://dev.chromium.org/getting-involved they state the following:
    ---
    Here are some ways you can get involved with Chromium:
    - Join some of our developer discussion groups
    - Get the latest build (coming soon) and file bugs
    - Provide reduced test cases to help improve web compatibility
    - Adopt a bug that's marked helpwanted
    - Submit patches

    If you want to build and debug Chromium:
    - Follow the Getting Started tutorial
    - Build the code on Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux
    ----

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  6. Woops. That's not my web site.

    Anyway, here is the project's homepage: http://code.google.com/chromium/

    ReplyDelete
  7. Woops. Once again, I screwed up with the web site.

    As another comment though, I can't wait till there is more of an extension community (like http://www.mozdev.org) for Chrome. I'm very fond of Chrome as it is right now, but not enough to leave Firefox. However, if there were some extensions, that could be a different story.

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  8. I hate it when people keep pointing out the "GNU/Linux" thing. Just saying Linux is enough for anyone to understand it, and it does sound better. Also, the FOSS being good, and Non-FOSS being evil thing is just retarded.

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  9. Thanks to all of you for your input.

    First to everyone pointing out that the source code is indeed available: I wrote the article when Google did not even mention the source code in any way, meaning before the Google Chrome release. I am going to update this article asap.

    Now to measuring a company's evilness by checking whether source code is available for a program. First of all, availability of source code alone is not enough. There are enough "just look, don't touch" licenses out there that are a mess. The idea behind that was that if the source code is available under a Free Software license people can check and actually see what happens to their private data. The comment by "you are right" perfectly explains my point.

    On to he idea of having a extension community: The idea is great, but Chrome/Chromium has just been released. I am expecting something similar to mozdev.org to appear at some point.

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  10. I think the "evilness" in question would have been if they made claims that it was going to be "free software" and didn't make it so. Especially if you read the comic and all their explicit reference to doing so. I hadn't heard anything about the source either and I think it's perfectly valid to say "if they don't follow through on their promise that is not 'good'." Especially if that turned out to be a "disingenuous" use of the term "Free Software." Just because it turned out well doesn't mean the point wasn't valid. Worry about "GNU/Linux" vs "Linux" is just anal retentive though (at best).

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  11. If you don't "get" why non-free is evil and think it's more or less negotiable, then you probably don't "get" why capitalism is evil and needs to be replaced with socialism.

    But since that's the dominant paradigm and we've all been indoctrinated by the propaganda from birth, it's only to be expected. Educate yourself. Break the spell.

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  12. Google Chrome is really fast!
    Now I can sort 200,000 records inside of Browser (Chrome) just in 1 sec. (Faster than Microsoft Excel):
    http://www.ardentedge.com/ex_if.htm

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  13. Hey,

    talking about good or evil: Does anyone consider the data exchange of Chrome with Google as evil? I actually do. Google know just too much right now. And how sure can I that Chrome really doesn't communicate with Google at all.

    I switched off the internet activity of Picasa and had to ban it AGAIN in my Firewall, as Picasa still wanted to go on-line.

    Chrome must have access to the internet, so I can't tell my Firewall to stop it... So, I guess this is reason, why I stay with my great Firefox!

    Cheers and thanks for the post and comments
    Martin

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  14. Very nice post check out my run down on the Google Chrome browser plus the exploits etc here http://attackingcitizen.blogspot.com/

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  15. at what point is the world going to wake-up to the fact that google will eventually know everything about you.. with chrome your every movement on the internet can be tracked.

    the logo reminds me of the all seeing "eye" of big brother

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  16. The source code for Google's Chrome Browser has never been released. Google uses the code from the open source browser Chromium in their proprietary browser Chrome. They can do this because the Chromium code is released under the BSD License. Clever marketing by Google. Google only offers Chrome in binary form (it's closed source) and they only offer the source code (not the binary) for Chromium. If you want to use the open source browser Chromium you can download a binary at http://free-chrome.net

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  17. Google chrome browser is the best browser in all.

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  18. nabiy: Apple does the same thing with Safari/WebKit.

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