Monday, 1 September 2008

Google Chrome

So apparently Google is working on it's own browser, and they have produced probably the least funny comic in history to let the world know. Apart from the technical reasons for the browser, that are trumpeted in the cartoon, I imagine the business types at Google are also interested in solving the little issue that while most of the world use Google's search platform, they mostly do it using their arch-competitor's browser (Internet Explorer). Despite extensive funding from Google, Mozilla have never had the brand presence to undo Microsoft's browser-dominance as much as Google would, no doubt, like.

Google's project is planned to be open source, make all the technical bloggers very happy people. But it's worth remembering that "open source" does not mean "democratic". We can reasonably expect Google's browser to be designed carefully around Google's services. This is a branded browser that it likely to be promoting GMail over, say, Hotmail or Yahoo, and GTalk over Skype, AIM, or Facebook's instant messaging.

But then, the chances are that even Google's brand presence will not push out IE in the near term -- how do you market a "better browser" to an end-user who doesn't know any of the technical reasons? Especially when you can't afford to stop giving the browser they're already using great support? However, a Google Browser probably could out-compete Mozilla's Firefox. (And for how long will Google continue to fund Mozilla? They are by far the biggest financial contributor at the moment.) That in turn could help Google dominate some of the competition in Web-based applications -- the losers from this might well be AOL, Skype, and Adobe.

And then there's the small matter of upcoming competition -- competing for the next generation of apps. Adobe AIR threatens to take Web applications out of the browser, and provides a rich application environment without some of the hassles of HTML. That could become a compelling story, and Adobe have a history of getting their product out to a large userbase (Flash has around a 90% install-base). And they have an online-documents suite that is a minor competitor to Google Docs, but that could easily become more compelling. So, it is very much in Google's interests to improve the HTML+Javascript experience of the browser, since that is where all of their business is based.

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