Chrome may be great, but will it matter?

by Mathew on September 2, 2008 · 11 comments

As I said in my post yesterday about Google’s new Chrome browser (and as a number of others have also noted, including Kara Swisher and Mike Arrington) Google’s real target isn’t Microsoft’s Internet Exploder, or even Mozilla’s Firefox, but the desktop operating system market. As Fred Wilson points out in his blog post on the topic, Google’s focus is the “cloud” — i.e., Web-based applications such as GMail and Google Docs and so on — and for an increasing number of people (including me), the browser is just a window through which they can use a variety of Web-based services.

So the point of Chrome is to turn the browser into a better interface for those Web services and apps, by using a faster, custom-made version of Javascript, by isolating each site in its own tab so that it can’t crash the whole browser, and so on. Although some of these features appear in IE 8 as well (including the separate sandbox-for-apps approach) Nick Carr is right when he says that Google is the only company for whom the cloud is a priority, and the only one with the resources to totally remake the browser into a Web operating system — continuing a trend that Netscape started back in the first bubble.

But just when we’re all starting to feel rosy and cheerful about the bright future of a Google-powered Web OS, along comes Hank Williams (not *that* Hank Williams) at Why Does Everything Suck, who points out that for most people, Internet Exploder is working just fine — and not only that, but a surprisingly large number of people are still using IE6, which is five years old, and wasn’t even that great to begin with. Do any of these people care that Google’s browser will run Web apps better than their existing browser? Unlikely (if they even use Web apps).

Meanwhile, Matthew Gertner of Mozilla says he isn’t convinced that the browser is the best place to run Web apps. He works for the Mozilla Prism project, which allows Web apps to run as separate, standalone windows that mimic desktop apps, an approach similar to the “rich Internet application” model that Adobe is pushing through its AIR app, and Microsoft is pushing with Silverlight. There’s no question that the line between Web and desktop is blurring, and Chrome may well continue that process. But whether it is the ultimate answer — and whether the average Web user will even care — is still a pretty big question mark.

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