Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Chrome Share Grows, Helps Advance Use of Standards

Chrome, which Google launched as a crash-resistant WebKit-based internet browser on September 3, 2008, now appears to have a weekend internet traffic share exceeding Microsoft's Internet Explorer, which previously commanded virtually all of the browser traffic on the Web. Google's reluctant assault on Microsoft's dominance has included ChromeOS, but its main thrust has been in offering data using freely-available standards and offering APIs to allow third-parties to deliver data handled by Google. The result? Steve Ballmer's description of non-IE browsers as "a rounding error" is more laughable than ever. IE-only web crippling is in full retreat; most of the Internet now uses something other than IE.

The Chrome browser and its Google Gears component made certain that users on any platform could access Google's internet-based offerings. Chrome with Gears is, in effect, like iTunes after Apple launched music-purchase as a feature: it protected the company's prospective users from content lock-out that would have resulted from continued Microsoft dominance of the ecosystem. And like iTunes, Chrome has succeeded. Chrome has grown in use so that on the weekend – when users aren't forced by corporate overlords to use an inferior browser – it's the leading browser on Earth.

Adding together WebKit and Mozilla, it's clear that standards-dedicated HTML interpretation is now in fact the global standard, especially in the now-much-targeted mobile segment. Standards-noncompliance is now the minority position rather than the de-facto standard. Moreover, WebKit browsers (mostly Chrome and Safari) now exceed Microsoft's browsers on an ongoing basis, and not just on the weekend (and constitute about 2/3 of the mobile traffic).* Who would have imagined such success for WebKit when Apple announced it at the Worldwide Developer's Conference as a new derivative of KHTML? Now, lazy web site developers can't rely on ignoramous clients to tell their online customers to go get Internet Explorer: everyone must meet the standards supported by WebKit, which in turn supports legitimate standards.

The success of WebKit leads to more momentum behind improving its underlying performance, and the desirability of advancing new, more feature-rich web standards. Since standards mean something now that most of the web users have tools committed to standards, effort dedicated to the promulgation of new open standards is no longer at risk of being wasted: browsers compete for early standards conformance, and most of the world uses one of them. As standards-conformance becomes a sufficient test for content accessibility, developers become to code to known standards rather than troubleshoot accessibility on a whole hatful of competing browsers.

The web is becoming free of dominion by Microsoft, and it can't come too soon.

*: Looking only at the desktop, Microsoft still ekes out a majority of browser share, giving open alternatives a next target. Overall browser share, however, is no longer Microsoft's, and mobile browser share seems well out of its grasp so far. Of course, there's WinMo 8 to come in the fall.

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