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.

  • http://www.allaboutnortel.com Mark Evans

    Chrome will matter because it will create a second consumer-friendly alternative to IE – apologies to Safari and Opera fans. Given it's Google and assuming Chrome will be user-friendly, it will probably attract a lot of users.

    Let's assume Chrome carves out 10% of the browser market – perhaps half of that from Firefox and half from IE. That will means IE could be down to 60% market share, which is a long way from the 90% + it had not so long ago.

    This is one reason Chrome will matter.

    Then, you've got the whole OS side of the house.

  • http://leighhimel.blogspot.com leigh

    I think you're right Mathew from a cloud vs. desktop perspective I don't think Google is having it's eggs in the right basket. Browsers seem to crash far more than my desktop apps do. I can only imagine having my browser with all my ten windows of applications all going kaput at the same time? Kill me now.

    But I think that Mark is right that it does matter from a browser war perspective and how that might fit into their strategy as the world's largest advertising company is in my mind the thing to watch.

  • http://www.storyofmylife.com/antje antje

    I think it will take more from FF than anything (doesn't Google support Mozilla anyway? How's that going to play?)

    The IE6 users are not going to move unless forced. There is a huge market out there with a mentality of “don't touch my system, don't upgrade, don't do anything – it works and I want it left as is…” Huge.

    PS some of our users still use netscape….

  • http://jaxtr.blogspot.com JimAtJaxtr

    Interesting thoughts. What Google is doing seems to be along the lines of Apple methodology–just the concept of having multiple products all working seamlessly together. So they keep gathering more and more pieces to draw in different segments of people. Short term, I don't think Chrome really dents the market, but longterm, it may be a different scenario as Google continues to prove the value and functionality of its products to different groups of people over time.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    That's a good analogy, Jim. It does seem as though Google wants to
    control many different aspects of how we experience the Web –
    including things like Android — in much the same way Apple wants
    hardware and software to work together to offer a single user
    experience. At least Google is making an attempt to keep things open
    source though.

  • http://rolandtanglao.com roland

    multiple open source products all working together in a usable fashion is a great vision! now if only google would open source all of their stuff :-) !

  • http://graduallythensuddenly.com Daniel Gibbons

    Hank Williams doesn't say that IE6 is still working fine for most people. He says it truly sucks, but tragically has 25% of the OS market. The truth is most people don't know how to install a new browser on their PC, and in my direct experience many people don't actually know what Firefox is (not joking). These are the people who, through no fault of their own, simply think that computers utterly suck and make their lives more miserable than happy, and that's the only way things are.

    It's such a travesty that Microsoft has not only inflicted such a dreadful user experience on the majority, but also conditioned them to think it's tolerable and normal.

  • http://jaxtr.blogspot.com JimAtJaxtr

    Interesting thoughts. What Google is doing seems to be along the lines of Apple methodology–just the concept of having multiple products all working seamlessly together. So they keep gathering more and more pieces to draw in different segments of people. Short term, I don't think Chrome really dents the market, but longterm, it may be a different scenario as Google continues to prove the value and functionality of its products to different groups of people over time.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    That's a good analogy, Jim. It does seem as though Google wants to
    control many different aspects of how we experience the Web –
    including things like Android — in much the same way Apple wants
    hardware and software to work together to offer a single user
    experience. At least Google is making an attempt to keep things open
    source though.

  • http://rolandtanglao.com roland

    multiple open source products all working together in a usable fashion is a great vision! now if only google would open source all of their stuff :-) !

  • http://carrieanddanielle.com Daniel Gibbons

    Hank Williams doesn't say that IE6 is still working fine for most people. He says it truly sucks, but tragically has 25% of the OS market. The truth is most people don't know how to install a new browser on their PC, and in my direct experience many people don't actually know what Firefox is (not joking). These are the people who, through no fault of their own, simply think that computers utterly suck and make their lives more miserable than happy, and that's the only way things are.

    It's such a travesty that Microsoft has not only inflicted such a dreadful user experience on the majority, but also conditioned them to think it's tolerable and normal.

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