Google’s new Chrome browser is already shaking up the once sedentary browser market.
Some might argue that Chrome is an IE-killer, an arrow in Google’s quiver headed straight for Microsoft’s browser. I’m not one of them.
Yes, Mozilla’s Firefox effort has created a resurgence in browser interest ever since its 1.0 release in 2004. Yes, Firefox has attracted nearly 200 million Web users in the last four years. But let’s look at the facts. Even with the superior browser platform that Mozilla Firefox has offered, IE still dominates among the general public. For perhaps many hundred of millions (billions?) of people globally, the Internet is the little blue ‘e’ on their desktop.
Can Google Chrome change that perception, that immutable reality of the consumer masses?
You can argue that Google has already done so with search, having replaced the old stalwarts to become the dominant search engine on Earth. The browser however is a little different. Users historically have had to choose which search engine they go to in order to perform a search. Since the days of Microsoft Windows 98, users have had IE as an installed browser that does not require them to choose a different browser. IE is a part of the operating system.
The fact that millions have chosen Firefox means that people will switch; they will switch to Google Chrome, but not everyone, even among the millions that hit the Google homepage to download Chrome and will try it out.
However, you must remember that even today, ten years after IE become part of Windows, Microsoft still makes IE available by default to all of its users and offers regular updates via its Microsoft Update service.
It’s an advantage that no other browser vendor on Windows has. Take other popular applications that have come along to threaten Microsoft’s base of products.
Google’s Gmail has not killed Outlook. Google Apps has not killed Word or Excel and Chrome will not kill IE. But Chrome will make a dent and it will force Microsoft to improve at a more rapid rate than it did previously; but Microsoft still holds the high ground.
The big loser in the Google Chrome browser sweepstakes? Mozilla’s Firefox. While Mozilla has done a miraculous job of building its brand and share, Google’s brand dwarfs it and has wider awareness among the general public. There will be Firefox users that find Chrome to be faster or more suited to their needs and they will switch. After all, they’ve switched before.
Some IE users will also be persuaded. Likely those that already use Google for search, email and apps.
Since Chrome is open source, Mozilla will be able to benefit from some of Chrome’s, if warranted. However, even if Mozilla uses Chrome, the larger question remains: Which browser vendor will the consumer masses choose based on brand alone? It’s a battle that Mozilla cannot win. Or can it?
Though Google still places search at the core of its company, search is surprisingly one of the major omissions from Google Chrome, in my opinion.
Unlike, IE, Mozilla and Safari, Chrome does not have a search box in the upper right hand of the browser. Instead Google has opted for its Omnibox, which lets users search right from the toolbar.
The problem is that it doesn’t quite allow for the same degree of search engine choice as a separate search box. Google will let user’s specify different search engines, but practically speaking it’s not as easy as the simple pulldown that the other browsers offer. So for users that want search engine choice, IE, Mozilla and Safari still offer a better solution.
Chrome also does not have an Extension framework like the other browsers. Extensions are what make Firefox a platform as opposed to just a content viewer. Many users (myself included) rely on a myriad of Firefox extensions to do their jobs and to fully enable the web experience.
On the other hand, Google enjoys a brand halo effect. Certainly not everything that Google touches turns to gold, but it does attract plenty of users for most of its products.
For Microsoft and Google, the browser is a strategic play, a technology that helps them to leverage their brand and other technologies. For Mozilla, the browser is its business. In the larger struggle between the Microsoft and Google technology platforms, it can be argued that the browser is just yet another battleground.
For Mozilla’s sake, it needs to continue to differentiate and define a competing view, independent of the two platforms in order to stay relevant. I hope it doesn’t get caught in the crossfire.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor for InternetNews.com.