Posted by: Rob Hof on September 1, 2008
In its latest bid to remain ascendant on the Internet, Google is about to release its own Web browser, long a key online battleground. It just announced its plans for the browser, dubbed Chrome, briefly on its official blog, so its ultimate intentions are not yet clear. But the Web browser more than ever has become the one indispensable product—even if it’s free—for anyone using the Internet. So it’s clear that Google is looking to firm up its ever-growing online presence—especially vs. Microsoft, maker of the dominant browser Internet Explorer. (Chrome was first reported by the blog Google Blogoscoped, which in an odd publicity tactic on Google’s part received a comic book in the mail outlining the product.)
This is a very interesting if long-rumored move, since it pits Google all the more directly against Microsoft in a battle for preeminence on the Web. Some folks such as Kara Swisher think it turns what she calls a Cold War between the two behemoths red-hot.
However, I think the war got pretty hot many months if not years ago, as Google released its own, Web-based office-productivity software and Microsoft tried to buy Yahoo, among many other moves aimed at thwarting Google’s seemingly unstoppable march. So while there will be much sturm und drang about Google making yet another bid for a crucial piece of people’s online lives, I actually think this represents more of the same of Google’s standard operating procedure: Throw stuff out there, see what sticks, and then run with what ends up catching on.
Indeed, the missive just posted on Google’s main blog pretty much confirms that Google is throwing this out early (along with the comic book, which went out early by accident) to the open-source community, which will be able to use the code to create yet more new and different browsers, to see what they can do with it. According to Sundar Pichai, Google’s VP of product management, and Linus Upson, the engineering director:
So why are we launching Google Chrome? Because we believe we can add value for users and, at the same time, help drive innovation on the web.
All of us at Google spend much of our time working inside a browser. We search, chat, email and collaborate in a browser. And in our spare time, we shop, bank, read news and keep in touch with friends — all using a browser. Because we spend so much time online, we began seriously thinking about what kind of browser could exist if we started from scratch and built on the best elements out there. We realized that the web had evolved from mainly simple text pages to rich, interactive applications and that we needed to completely rethink the browser. What we really needed was not just a browser, but also a modern platform for web pages and applications, and that’s what we set out to build.
On the surface, we designed a browser window that is streamlined and simple. To most people, it isn’t the browser that matters. It’s only a tool to run the important stuff — the pages, sites and applications that make up the web. Like the classic Google homepage, Google Chrome is clean and fast. It gets out of your way and gets you where you want to go.
This is just the beginning — Google Chrome is far from done. We’re releasing this beta for Windows to start the broader discussion and hear from you as quickly as possible. We’re hard at work building versions for Mac and Linux too, and will continue to make it even faster and more robust.
We owe a great debt to many open source projects, and we’re committed to continuing on their path. We’ve used components from Apple’s WebKit and Mozilla’s Firefox, among others — and in that spirit, we are making all of our code open source as well. We hope to collaborate with the entire community to help drive the web forward.
The web gets better with more options and innovation. Google Chrome is another option, and we hope it contributes to making the web even better.
So check in again tomorrow to try Google Chrome for yourself. We’ll post an update here as soon as it’s ready.
All that said, Google clearly must feel pressure from Microsoft, particularly with the recent release of its Internet Explorer 8, which includes features intended to blunt Google’s inexorable growth in search market share. The new IE allows people to block information collection that helps Google place more relevant ads, has links to Microsoft services, and offers a better, Microsoft-oriented search toolbar.
Ultimately, if Google’s browser does indeed work better on all the stuff people do online besides browse, that’s going to be a good thing for all of us—if only because it will goad Microsoft, Firefox creator Mozilla, and others to innovate faster.
And judging from Google’s stated intention here to create a “modern platform for Web pages and applications,” its ambitions seem to come close to the “Google operating system” that many people have speculated Google ultimately wants to build. That’s what entrepreneur John Furrier thinks is at work here. It’s not just Google vs. Microsoft here. It’s the entire Web way against desktop computing, maybe for the final showdown.
At the very least, I wouldn’t be surprised if Chrome finds its way onto mobile devices. If it’s as simple, stripped-down, and fast as that post implies—and as a nice summary of the features from ReadWriteWeb illustrates—it’s readymade for mobile devices, the next great online battleground.
Already, Google CEO Eric Schmidt has noted that the iPhone produces way more searches than any other mobile device simply because it uses a real browser. That just shows much demand there would be for a browser that works even faster on the mobile devices that are increasingly the way most people will get their daily information.
However, in the short term, the bigger impact could be on Firefox, more than on Microsoft’s IE—despite the fact that Google recently committed to supporting Firefox for years to come. Many of the people inclined to use something other than the often-default IE on their PCs probably have switched already, though Firefox is continuing to gain share. So I wonder if the switchers are more inclined to abandon Firefox than the IE they already abandoned. Mainstream users who haven’t bothered to switch from IE, and many who never will, probably won’t go for either Firefox or Chrome in whatever versions eventually come out.
Of course, Google doesn’t succeed on every product by any means, even if the press and early adopters always assume they do when they’re released. Google Apps are not yet a runaway hit, at least not with large companies. The Google shopping site Froogle, Google Checkout, the social network Orkut, and others have not set the world on fire either. We’ll see which one Chrome turns out to be. (Don’t be surprised to see a spate of blog posts after Chrome is available for download saying how much it sucks.)
But that may not matter in the end. If Google can offer up an example of a better browser, if it can disrupt the current way of doing things so that incumbents must scramble, it will give itself a better chance to thwart Microsoft’s classic grind-‘em-down-slowly strategy. And the way of the Web will be one step closer to the prevailing mode of computing.