Chrome Branding

by Ho-Sheng Hsiao

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, would succeed if only due to one of the
features included with 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 here.

Web designers have often lamented their limited visual real
estate and the importance of visual site branding. The screen is
too small, so every bit of space on a 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

The downloadable chrome in the new browser makes it possible for
Web designers to change the look-and-feel for the toolbars. These
toolbars typically take up about an inch or two on a normal
monitor. They typically reflect the visual branding of the
operating system, not the Web site. Downloadable chrome is a gem. A
Web designer takes over the look of the toolbar and integrates it
with the rest of the page. Since it does not replace, but rather
supplements the toolbars, a user should still find that
functionality remains 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 will jump on chrome branding. Imagine Yahoo! or Excite with a
search bar on your tool bar. Web rings could also integrate
themselves (the current Web ring graphics are ugly and not very
functional). Some enterprising marketer will figure out how to put
advertisements on the chrome. Downloadable chrome and chrome
branding won’t be a revolution; people will still do the same
thing. However, there’ll be plenty of demand for it.

Despite 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 and lines blur.
Contemplate that old saw about people buying applications and not
operating systems.

Any suggestion of integrating 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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