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Chrome Branding:
Another Iteration of Web Innovation
Ho-Sheng Hsiao 1999 Apr 04

The Mozilla.org project suffered from attrition lately. Fingers pointed everywhere. Reasons? I've heard citations of anything from middle management to the failure of open source.

The project, however, will succeed if only due to one of the features included with the upcoming browser. The downloadable chrome subtly changes the way web designers will design sites in the short term, and marks one more milestone in the long term. I discuss the short term in this essay.

Web designers have often lamented the limited visual real estate, and the importance of visual site branding. The screen is too small, so every bit of space on an monitor matters. The web also makes hypertext links easy, but that fragments access to your site. Visual branding ties each of these fragments together to form a site identity. A well-designed site leaves no question whose site a page belongs to. Visual branding is precious due to the limited visual real estate. For further discussion, see the Yale C/AIM Web Style Guide, and the O'Reilly-published book, "Web Navigation".

The downloadable chrome in the new browser makes it possible for web designers to change the look-and-feel for the tool bars. These toolbars typically take up about an inch or two on a regular monitors. They also typically reflect the visual branding of the operating system, not for the web site. A downloadable chrome is a gem.

A web designer takes over the the look of the toolbar, integrating it with the rest of the page. Since it does not replace, but rather supplement the tool bars, a user should still find all of the functionality will remain the same. It is what frame-based navigation could have been and more. A web design team uses downloadable chrome to visually brand their site and improve navigation. They are chrome branding.

Certainly, portal (or whatever they're calling them these days) sites would jump on chrome branding. Imagine Yahoo! or Excite with a search bar on your tool bar. Web rings would also integrate themselves (the current web ring graphics are ugly and not very functional). Some enterprising marketer would figure out how to put advertisements on the chrome. Downloadable chrome, chrome branding won't revolutionize; people will still do the same thing. However, widespread usage is about to explode -- there'll be plenty of demand for it.

Despite the high-profile resignations from the Mozilla.org project, it will succeed. Downloadable chrome and chrome branding, made possible by Mozilla's standards-compliant engine, is the single most compelling solution provided by the browser.

There's been talk about using the Gecko engine for application building, drawing parallels to Java. Creating an application from the same technologies as web sites sounds appealing. But reverse that thought: turn web sites into applications. Lines blur. Contemplate that old saying about people buying applications, and not operating systems.

Any suggestion that one integrates the browser and the operating system, making it one and the same, sounds absurd, and narrow-minded. It is. The browser is on its way as a desktop to a networked operating system.

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