Tag Archives: Chrome

Firefox Drops to 3rd Place

I remember driving to the mall with my dad, to buy a copy of Netscape Navigator 1.2 on floppy disks. Since that time I’ve had a soft spot for Netscape and its successors, including Firebird and the increasingly irrelevant Firefox.


This month comes the news that Firefox has fallen to 3rd place, with more users on both Google Chrome and Internet Explorer.

Life’s too short to waste time on a third place browser.  I am writing this on Google Chrome, and regularly use Internet Explorer.  But I’ve uninstalled Firefox.

Review of “Renegades of the Empire,” by Michael Drummond

Renegades of the Empire is a 1999 book by Michael Drummond. Renegades is an odd book, focusing primarily on a small political faction within Microsoft and two projects with which it was identified. Drummond’s LinkedIn profile lists as an accomplishment, “Managed Shiite, Sunni employees as Baghdad bureau chief at the height of the U.S. military surge,” so presumably he knows something about in-fighting!

Specifically, Renegades focuses on Alex St. John (eventually CEO of WildTangent), Eric Engstrom (eventually CEO of Wildseed), and Craig Eisler (now a Corporate Vice President at Microsoft, and former blogger) through two projects, DirectX and Microsoft Chrome/Chromeffects. If you’re a PC gamer, you’ve heard of DirectX, a multimedia technology that many games use to have more lifelike graphics and sound. Almost no one has heard of Chrome/Chromeffects, initially an advanced browser, and finally a bucket of technology subsumed by other groups. The political machinations that occur in the background continue to impact the company, such as the rise of Jim Allchin (who became head of the Windows group, only to resign the day Vista shipped and is now a musician) and the ever-increasing importance of Steve Ballmer (now the CEO).

In my mind I compare Renegades to four previous books with similar themes

  • I Sing the Body Electronic is an on-the-ground account of the near-collapse of the “Encarta Kids” project at Microsoft
  • Microserfs is a fictionalized treatment of ambitious employees at the company
  • Crystal Fire, focusing on Bell Labs, is an analogous story of three men attempting to push their vision on an organization.

Against such fine competition, Renegades comes up short. While I Sing the Body Electronic finally differentiates between characters and explores the link between personality quirks and project fates, Renegades focuses on three stereotypical alpha nerd. Microserfs, similarly set in the mid-1990s, features much more sympathetic protagonists. Crystal Fire, exhaustively researched and with the benefit of historical context, charts the rise of an entire industry.

Michael Drummond has had an excellent career since Renegades of the Empire, and I would be fascinatined if he came out with a second book. Considering the heavy competition in the niches that Renegades occupies, however, it is difficult to recommend this book.

The User Experience of Google Chrome

Pulse UX had a piece on Google Chrome (the browser I’m currently using to browse the web) in late 2008 that becomes more interesting every time I read it. After thinking about the piece for some times, it comes to two general conclusions: Google Chrome is not a well designed browser, but then Google Chrome is not primarily a browser at all.

The point about the danger of starting-from-scratch is obvious enough:

What does Google Chrome mean for the future of user experience design?

In an article by Steven Levy, from the October 2008 issue of WIRED magazine title: “Inside Chrome: The Secret Project to Crush IE and Remake the Web” the developers of Chrome described how they approached the UX design problem for their new “world-beating” browser. In part they described the UX design methodology as follows.

“When deciding what buttons and features to include, the team began with the mental exercise of eliminating everything, then figuring out what to restore.”

Whoa!…that IS an interesting UX design methodology. The problem is that the Google UX process ignored almost entirely the past 25 years of cognitive science and related skill acquisition theory. The Google Chrome UX design methodology created, to a significant extent, the perplexing complexity of Chrome by ignoring several billion “person-hours” of prior experience that users accrued with established browser interaction models. Arbitrarily deciding what to leave out or include in terms of features and functions is…how shall we say…1950’s UX design.

… and dovetails nicely to my thoughts on the science and art of user experience research. However, the Pulse UX piece then convincingly argues that the primary purpose of Google Chrome is to be a rendering engine for Google Docs and other software in the cloud. Thus, Google Chrome is not a competitor to Microsoft Internet Explorer so much as a competitor to Microsoft Live Mesh.

The post is fascinating. The “art” of Chrome’s long-term strategy, and the science of measuring user experience, tie together nicely. Read the whole thing.