Last night I spent some time with "the not ready for prime time" version of Google Chrome for Mac OSX. I didn't think I'd like it on any level, but have heard that it is really fast using the Google tools. I can say that it is fast, really fast when using the Google suite -- Reader, Docs, Calendar, and iGoogle. All were noticeably faster than what I am used to with Safari. After playing with this early build I am already convinced Google is on to something with a browser that is optimized for web applications. I know for a fact that I'll be spending quite a bit of time in Chrome once it when it gets a bit more stable.
I've never been much of a Firefox fan, so the idea of using a non-Safari browser hasn't really been high on my list. But if Chrome continues to progress and if the features continue to develop I'll use it quite a bit. I've stepped away from using Office except for very rare occasions so having a faster and more feature rich browser to live in Docs is very appealing to me. This could essentially be the space a good portion of my productivity and collaboration happens -- especially after Google Wave comes along.
If you'll indulge me for a minute there is one thing the notion of a browser built for specific purposes reminds me of ... an idea I had over ten years ago -- a browser built to support education. It seems insane now that we'd need such a thing, but back in 1998 bandwidth was scarce and the level of interactivity was very low (unless you embedded a bunch of shockwave pieces). What I was thinking about was a client application that had all sorts of standard functionality built in that a simple text file could unlock. If you needed to do complex in-browser activities, the browser itself had the functionality and the text file would simply provide the content and the context to let it happen. All the tracking would have happened on the client side and be pushed to the server when a network connection was available. Seems hilarious now, but it seemed to make so much sense at the time. I know it is funny, but lots of ideas look silly after progress ... I wonder if all the stuff we are hyped about now will look insane in 10 years?