RealTime IT News

Google as Browser?

Analysis -- Could Google be on the verge of creating its own Web browser, or is the guessing game about the company's post-IPO plans spinning out of control?

Once news broke that everyone's favorite search engine had registered the "gbrowser.com" domain and hired a handful of former Microsoft developers who were involved with Internet Explorer, the speculation about Google's intent started and has shown no signs of abating.

Google officials won't comment on product plans, but there's no shortage of opinions from analysts and industry watchers.

Search technology guru Danny Sullivan believes it is a "no-brainer" that Google would be interested in creating its own browser. "The browser is your entry point onto the Web. It's the strongest advantage Microsoft has and it's where Google wants to be," Sullivan told internetnews.com.

The Search Engine Watch editor said the fact that searches conducted in IE default to its own search engine was a crucial factor that could drive Google to compete on the software side.

"I won't be surprised to see Google release a beta browser sometime soon. They're in direct competition with Microsoft on several fronts, and a browser is one way to push users to your own search engine," Sullivan said.

JupiterResearch analyst Nate Elliott isn't so convinced that the launch of a Google browser is inevitable.

"I think it's mostly just speculation right now. People are looking for things they think Google will do now that they have a lot of extra cash on their hands, and they're mostly just guessing," Elliott told internetnews.com.

(JupiterResearch and internetnews.com are owned by Jupitermedia.)

"I don't see how a browser helps Google. People who would download a Google browser would presumably be already using the Google Toolbar," he said, referring to the IE add-on that handles Google searches on Microsoft's browser. "There is significant overlap between those two audiences.

"At best, a browser would be a very indirect source of revenue at this time," Elliott continued. "I'd imagine Google would be spending their money and resources on things that would produce revenue."

Elliott's doubts aside, the truth is that Google has slowly but surely branched out into the tricky market for software and services, even though search and advertising remain its bread and butter.

When Google acquired the fee-based Blogger push-button blogging platform, it seemed a strange fit for a company that prided itself on search technology. At the time, experts predicted Google would sell targeted news packages (including niche weblog content) to large-scale enterprise clients looking to plug feeds into intranets and internal news services.

Except, Google had a very simple plan that played to its strength; make Blogger a free service and use blogs to serve billions of ads for its contextual AdSense program. Then split the revenues with the bloggers themselves.

In another move that raised eyebrows earlier this year, Google bought digital imaging software firm Picasa and immediately made it a free service integrated with its Google Image search feature. Picasa lets users organize and share digital photographs; it already connects with Blogger; and it's not a stretch to see where Google is headed.

Add the Orkut social network service into the mix and it becomes even more clear that Google is now a software/services firm with search/advertising as the glue.

Which brings us back to Gbrowser. It makes perfect sense for Google to begin cross-promoting all its products -- Web and news searching, blogging, social networking, image sharing -- from a browser.

"When you are the browser of choice for users, you can direct users to your services," Sullivan said. "It's a built-in advantage that Microsoft enjoys, and it's obvious Google would want that."

The guesswork has it that Gbrowser will be based on Mozilla but Google could go against the open-source grain and surprise the industry with an acquisition of Norway's Opera Software.

With an Opera acquisition, Google gets a ready-made install base to make its entry into the browser market and a significant bite of the mobile market.

On the surface, building a new search engine might be a cheaper option, but money isn't an issue for a company with a market cap of $32.8 billion. The Blogger and Picasa acquisitions have shown us Goggle isn't shy about buying into a market it covets.

Already, we have seen clues that Microsoft is feeling the heat on the browser front. Renewed development around IE has been kick-started and a high-profile Longhorn evangelist has been reassigned to the IE team. Microsoft has also advertised for browser developers and launched a widespread online offensive to solicit feedback from users.

Mozilla, with its Firefox alternative, is also in the thick of things with its grassroots campaign that has counted 2 million downloads in just 10 days.

Who said the browser wars were over?