Will Chrome OS collapse under the weight of its own Web browser?

The latest Chrome beta release shows Google returning to its piggish ways

What are they thinking? That's the question that ran through my mind as I pored over the latest Chrome 3.0 beta test data from the exo.performance.network site. It seems that the folks from Mountain View aren't content with securing a privileged spot on your desktop. They want to steal all of your PC's RAM, too.

At least that's how I'm interpreting these latest numbers. In a follow-up to an earlier post documenting the RAM footprint of the second Internet Explorer 8 beta, the xpnet.com research staff has re-created its original test scenario in an effort to revalidate their data points against the shipping versions of IE 8.0, Chrome 2.0, and Firefox 3.5.

[ Track your Windows PCs' performance with the free InfoWorld Windows Sentinel tool -- and contribute your performance data anonymously to the exo.performance network. ]

But while the data for these shipping browsers is interesting -- IE 8.0 is still a bloated pig, while Chrome 2.0 is better behaved and Firefox is as skinny as ever -- the really juicy stuff involves the current beta release of Chrome 3.0. It seems that Google's browser-cum-OS project is getting hungrier. The latest build gobbles up over a half-gigabyte of RAM while rendering a selection of popular media and technology Web sites.

That's three times as much memory as Firefox uses to render these same sites -- and it's 50 percent more than either Chrome 2.0 or IE 8.0 consumed during the same test. Note also that this isn't some kind of artificial torture test. The xpnet.com folks simply had the browsers open up a series of Web sites (including InfoWorld), with each site loaded into its own tab -- in other words, the same things users do every day.

To be fair, Chrome 3.0 is still very much in beta. By all accounts, Google is using this new release as a test platform for evaluating many of technologies that will eventually make their way into the Chrome OS. This includes the expanded use of core technologies like Native Client and Google Gears, as well as the introduction of a new plug-in architecture. With all of this new stuff floating around, there's bound to be some code bloat, especially in an early beta release.

However, I still can't help but worry about the direction Google is taking with Chrome 3.0. If it can chew up this much memory while rendering fewer than a dozen Web sites, imagine how much will it need to generate a complete desktop environment and supporting kernel/device driver/services stack. A gigabyte? Two? More? It staggers the mind.

Will Chrome OS crumble under the weight of its unwieldy browser? Hopefully not. However, this latest data doesn't bode well for Google's plans to target netbooks as Chrome OS' initial deployment platform. IT organizations are already struggling to define just how and where these mini-notebook PCs fit within a post-Windows XP landscape. The last thing they need is yet another bloated, top-heavy OS option to muddy the waters even further.

And now we get word that Google is pushing its apps solution through a new viral campaign. The Google folks want us to all "Go Google"; however, given their latest browser's propensity for gobbling up all available memory, I'm almost afraid to answer the call. My poor netbook, with its paltry 2GB of RAM, might not be up to the task. Is yours?

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