A Danish farm nestled just a bike ride away from Aarhus—a small city founded 1,000 years ago by Vikings—is a long way from traffic-clogged Silicon Valley and its high-energy engineers and entrepreneurs. Yet it was here that work began on the engine that powers the new Chrome Web browser from Google (GOOG), a product that aims to change the very nature of Internet browsing and the way we use computers.
Traditional browsers such as Internet Explorer from Microsoft (MSFT) and Firefox from Mozilla are designed primarily to display Web pages accessed from remote servers. But thanks to the Java language from Sun Microsystems (JAVA), there are now a growing number of full-fledged software applications available via the Net—and browsers are increasingly assuming responsibility for running them.
When Google dreamed up Chrome, its aim was to create a browser capable of running those applications dramatically faster than any previous alternative (BusinessWeek.com, 9/3/08). If the product succeeds as planned, it could upend the traditional computing model—typified by Microsoft Windows and Office—where software loads and runs locally on a PC, replacing it instead with an approach known as “cloud computing,” where programs run over the Internet.
Bak had moved back to Denmark in 2000 so that his two daughters, now 13 and 15, could be educated in his native country. Two years later he left Sun to start a new company with a pair of students from Aarhus University, called OOVM, that was bought in 2004 by Switzerland’s Esmertec (ESMN.F). After a two-year stint as chief architect and engineering manager for Esmertec, which specializes in Java software for mobile phones, Bak was ready for a break.
Two weeks later, he got a call from Google asking him to work on Chrome. Bak says he was intrigued by the project because “the goal was to raise the bar for the whole industry.” But he and his family didn’t want to leave the 1860 farmhouse on eight acres of land near Aarhus where they live. Google agreed to hire him anyway—and Bak set up shop in an old stable on the property and began hiring local talent.
“Lars’ experience in this area made him the ideal person to work on this ambitious, significant project,” says Nelson Mattos, Google’s vice-president of engineering for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. “V8 is the key to Chrome’s remarkable speed, and because it’s open source, it’s also a contribution to browser technology in general.”
As for Bak, he is still at work in Denmark, continuing to tinker with Chrome’s engine to make it better. The office at Aarhus University doesn’t offer any of the perks that Google is famous for, such as free haircuts and gourmet meals. But living in the Danish countryside and commuting on his bike to a job with one of Silicon Valley’s most successful companies is all the reward he needs, Bak says. That, and potentially changing the whole way people use computers and the Internet.