Chrome: Google’s Shiny New Browser Doesn’t Dull IE’s Dominance

SherimcleishBy Sheri McLeish

Google's beta launch today of its own open source browser, Chrome, is an unsurprising step that complements Google's ongoing efforts to own the desktop and take market share away from Microsoft. While others have tried to and failed to chip away at Microsoft's desktop browser IE, Google has good reason to think it can go head-to-head with MS — it has the eyes of consumers in North America and Western Europe, and access to millions of people and resources to further own the desktop experience building upon search, email, and calendaring. This isn't simply a play for the browser market; it's a component of a larger, long-term strategy to take over the desktop.

The surprising part of the announcement of Chrome is the question it raises around Google's investment in Mozilla and the open source browser Firefox. According to a recent Forrester survey, Firefox now has nearly 20 percent of the browser market and is the closest competitor to Microsoft.  While many are scratching their heads at why Google would look to compete with itself, the likely scenario is that Firefox and Chrome can work together to erode Microsoft's browser market share. Firefox, with 200 million users, has already been appealing to the tech set as the open source alternative for the anti-Microsoft crowd. The Chrome browser can take advantage of Google's greater brand recognition, can leverage Google's presence as a search tool to increase awareness of Chrome, and it can evolve to suit Google's vision of the desktop experience and differentiate itself from the current browser paradigm. It's not just anti-Microsoft and open source, it's what Google is calling the "modern" browser, built from scratch without the baggage of past.

But the question remains about how Google can get people to adopt Chrome. For users to switch browsers they must 1) be aware of alternatives and 2) have compelling reason to do so. The choice of browser for most people is tacit. They use whatever comes installed with their computer or is provisioned by IT. Since IE comes bundled with Windows, most people are still using IE. Even Microsoft is challenged to get people to upgrade browsers to its latest versions. So despite the differentiating features like running complex web applications better on back end, for the enterprise, Google Chrome may present the same issue many have with Microsoft — fear of lock in, but now not solely with Microsoft, but Google as well. And there are questions of interoperability. Will Google's apps only work, or work much better with their browser? How interoperable will it be? Until these questions can be effectively addressed, the immediate threat to Microsoft's desktop dominance is minimal.

Comments

re: Chrome: Google’s Shiny New Browser Doesn’t Dull IE’s Domina

I took the time to read this post multiple times, wanting to believe that I had missed some nuance, some irony amongst the full-frontal obliviousness. Even after all the parsing, I’m still befuddled…it’s not just un-insightful, it’s anti-insightful. Let’s look at a couple of statements:(1) “…many are scratching their heads at why Google would look to compete with itself…”: Let’s acknowledge up front that +$50m annually in subsidies buys a lot of influence, but Mozilla is not part of Google. Firefox is (and will remain) an open-source initiative delivering a highly capable browser. But it’s just not that easy to get an open-source community to rally around building components to support a single organization’s Internet dominance strategy (even when that organization is Google). The Firefox community self-identifies as anti-establishment (read: anti-Microsoft), and users select Firefox based (at least partly) on this positioning.While Google has indicated that Chrome will become an open-source program going forward, it’s open-source that Google owns and can direct to achieve it’s strategic objectives, which include competing directly with Microsoft in both the consumer and enterprise spaces. In order to do this, it needs an enterprise-class desktop capability that delivers both a compelling business case and a clear “we’re the new establishment” message.(2) “…the question remains about how Google can get people to adopt Chrome…”: Has anyone at Forrester looked at the metrics for downloads of various Google tools (e.g., Google Earth) or marveled at the ease of installing the Chrome beta (or Chrome's architectural innovation)? Do any Forresties (Forresterians?) comprehend the strength of Google’s brand? People have to go looking for Firefox and IE, and the majority of them go through Google to find them. Google has produced the most effective Internet capability delivery platform to date, and people voluntarily come to it on a daily basis.Suggesting that “…browser choice for most people is tacit” is a very 90s worldview (and what Microsoft would like everyone to believe). The truth is that Firefox has a +20% marketshare with a product that the majority of its users have to go find. 21st century consumers and businesses are savvy; they understand IE's reputation ("bloatware") and they're looking for alternatives. Google has the brand, technology and infrastructure to deliver.(3) “…until these questions can be effectively addressed, the immediate threat to Microsoft’s desktop dominance will be minimal”: This statement entirely misses the point. No, Chrome is not going to supplant IE in the next 6-12 months—although it will be interesting to see how quickly it replaces Firefox as #2 in the browser space. However, this is not a short-term play. You don’t sink the amount of R&D that Google has invested in Chrome without a long-term strategy in mind. The focus of that strategy is the enterprise.Let’s face it: Google is already dominant in the consumer space. While they will continue to increase eyeballs and revenue, growth will eventually moderate (as it has already shown signs of doing). In order to continue delivering the growth rates investors have come to expect, significant new markets must be opened up. Google has already started to make inroads into the enterprise via Custom Search, Google Search Applicance, Google Apps, Google Mail, etc., but has to date lacked a compelling centerpiece to tie together its enterprise cloud computing platform vision. Make no mistake: in deploying Chrome, Google is not interested in simply usurping IE. Rather, Google is seeking to break Microsoft’s dominance within the overall enterprise technology space.

re: Chrome: Google’s Shiny New Browser Doesn’t Dull IE’s Domina

Thank you for your comments on the Chrome announcement blog. They just further support what I was saying: Google does have the ability to better compete with Microsoft for the desktop with its own browser. And over the long term, Chrome and Google will look to rival if not usurp Microsoft.But today Chrome is only a beta release, and so it will have little bearing on the enterprise for the next few years. That's the practical reality. Eventually will it? Yes. Should enterprises be aware of this choice? Yes. Do they need to wait until Google rationalizes its product offerings before it jumps on the bandwagon. You bet.With IE coming bundled with new computers, it's going to take a company like Google and truly superior products to get there. But in the meantime, it shouldn't be an enterprise IT priority.