Google's brand is pure gold, but its tech edge is unproven in the browser sweepstakes
Some are calling Google's (GOOG) new browser Chrome an "Internet Explorer killer." Others venture further and call it a "Windows killer." Whether Google's newly launched browser has Microsoft (MSFT) quaking is unclear, but there's no doubt that Google is serious about "organizing the world's information"—and is prepared to shake up the status quo in the process.
It should come as little surprise that Google is entering the Web browser market. The search heavyweight already has a substantial stake in our online activities. Search, check! E-mail, check! Office documents, check! The list of Web applications offered by Google is both long and varied. With its goal of providing all of our online needs, it makes perfect sense that Google would step up and provide a Web browser built to accommodate its applications. With Chrome, Google is betting that more of us will move more of our computing from desktops to online, relying on the vast data centers known as "the cloud." But can Google's Web browser singlehandedly entice us to dump a favorite Web browser and our computer's operating system?
Let's start with the operating system. What's your favorite flavor? Windows, OS X, Linux? Whichever your allegiance, for at least the next several years, you'll need an operating system to boot your computer and store the applications that are still too large and unwieldy to run from inside the cloud. Take iTunes, Photoshop, or PowerPoint. While online equivalents exist, they just can't match the processing power and functionality that come from the applications you run from your computer's operating system.
Segmenting Online Activities
And, while Google Chrome's strength comes in its ability to segment online activities—an open tab playing a live video stream won't slow down the remainder of your Web browsing—it still needs an operating system at its foundation. For evidence that Google Chrome is not yet ready to replace an operating system, consider the browser's limitations at launch. Despite two years of hard work, Chrome can't run without Windows and it won't run at all on Apple's OS X or Linux.
Then comes the question of Chrome's potential for wresting market share from Google's rivals. Can Google really launch a new browser and expect to grab some of Internet Explorer's 72% Web browser market share and Firefox's 20%? Chrome certainly started off strong. On its opening days, according to analysts at Lehman Brothers, free downloads reached an astounding 2% of the market. Lehman predicts that the new browser could reach 15%-20% market share in just two years. In other words, it's likely to be big, but not dominant.
What's more, Google Chrome is not yet proven as a revolutionary Web browser. Google technicians emphasize that its architecture is different, and predict that it will handle computing intensive software applications better than its rivals. But most of the Web surfers who downloaded it on its first day came to face to face with a bare-bones browser with few of the add-ons and plug-ins available on the others.
Brand of Gold
What Chrome can boast is the Google brand. While not everything Google touches turns to shareholder gold, its brand works wonders. The company could launch a new brand of laundry detergent, and we'd likely clear grocery store shelves of the stuff. You can bet that Google's fans will jump at the chance to download a Google-branded browser, so they can check their Gmail, look-up their Google Maps, and search for laundry detergent on Google.com.
It's our infatuation with the Google brand, more than the technology inside, that will boost Chrome's market share and further extend Google in our daily Web activities. As for being a Windows or Internet Explorer killer, don't count on it.