Google’s new browser, Chrome, has been generating more column inches than I can believe. Outwardly, it’s a browser. “I think it is a web browser. I don’t think it is the first or the best browser,” says Dean Hachamovitch, general manager of Internet Explorer (and he’s right). It’s difficult to see from the thing itself why it’s causing such a stir.
One reason it’s getting so much coverage is that many people think this is Google finally deciding to compete with Microsoft on shared turf. Here comes Google, like some big geeky gunslinger, ready to blow away the evil empire. Some of you may remember Gates himself predicting that the browser would defeat the OS. This is why Microsoft went on to destroy Netscape, and then slowly allow their own browser, IE, to decay so badly.
Overall, compared to the squabillions Google have spent on search this racks up as another little project like gmail or google maps. It throws down the gauntlet to everyone else in the space, and shows how well you can do these days if you aren’t Microsoft – but as a product it’s no revolution.
So, why do people think this bit of software can destroy Windows? Partly it’s because the Microsoft hegemony is already dying all by itself. You don’t need to run Windows to use the Internet, and a lot of us work very successfully in heterogeneous networks now – some people on Macs, some on Linux, sometimes using mobiles and all sorts. This was completely unheard of 10 years ago – everyone had to run Windows, and it had to be closely managed by a dedicated IT team. It’s not uncommon now to see people in meetings using Eee PCs, and a lot of them still with Linux on them.
So, why the big deal over the browser? If it’s happening already, why does this new browser matter so much?
Truthfully, I don’t know. Firefox is an excellent product on Mac and Linux, although a lot of people claim it’s not so hot on Windows. I’m not a Windows user so I can’t say. For the average user, Chrome could be better than FF on Windows already. But then, if they just wanted a good browser, Google contribute a lot of developers to Mozilla, and could certainly have improved Firefox instead of developing Chrome.
I suspect for Google the minor outlay on developing a browser was worth it just to see what happened. They have shown before that they like to put the cat amongst the pigeons. They have said as much themselves – if their contribution forces IE8 to improve that will benefit Google more than it does anyone. The better people experience the web, the more pages they’ll see, and that’s more revenue for Google.
Also, there are people out there who will never use Firefox because it’s not backed by a big corporation. Many of us find that inexplicable, but I’m betting overall that Chrome will eat more of IE’s market share than it does Firefox’s. Again, that has to be a win for Google.
So, not an attempt to destroy Windows, just a low cost experiment in improving their ecosystem. Seen like that it makes a lot of sense. And if it gives them a lot of newspaper coverage and scares Microsoft – well, that’s nice too isn’t it.