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Why is Google Releasing a Browser?

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Updated Analysis: Google, in a blog post on its web site has acknowledged the existence of Google Chrome, a browser that the company will be releasing tomorrow. Kara Swisher has confirmed the existence of Google Chrome, a browser developed by the Mountain View, Calif.-based search company. The rumors of the browser were reported earlier on Google Blogoscoped, which received a comic book that outlined the key features of the browser.

  • It is based on Webkit and will include Google Gears.
  • It has a browser extensions framework that will allow it to make Adobe AIR-type hybrid apps.
  • It includes Javascript Virtual Machine called V8 that was developed by a team in Denmark. It accelerates the Javascript performance and is multi-threaded.
  • It has tabs, auto-completion, and a dashboard-type start page that can help you get going to the web services you need. Opera has such a dashboard.
  • It has a privacy mode that allows you to use the machine without logging anything on the local machine. It might be similar to a feature called Incognito in the latest version of Microsoft IE.
  • Malware and phishing protection would be built into the browser.

The company released:

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.

Google says the browser is going to be in open source.

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 new browser is going to be released in beta for Windows first, and there will be Mac and Linux versions at a later stage. A source tells me this initiative prompted Apple to release Safari For Windows as a beta last year.

The question is: Why a browser? What does Google get from releasing a browser? There are going to be many theories around the Google Browser — that it is a direct challenge to Microsoft’s IE Browser, for example — but I think it might be more than just the desktop. Why? Because even today, despite strong competition from Mozilla’s Firefox, Microsoft controls about 75 percent of the desktop browser market. In other words, given Microsoft’s control of the desktop, it is hard to dislodge it on the desktop.

However, it is vulnerable on mobiles, where IE Mobile has a non-existent market share. Like Mozilla, Microsoft is playing catch-up with Webkit, the core rendering engine for Nokia S60 phones, Apple’s iPhone Safari and Google Android devices. Even a Windows Mobile version is in the works. (Read my Webkit report.) By developing a browser that offers a seamless experience on both mobile and desktop devices, Google can carve out a nice chunk of the browser market for itself. The big opportunity could be especially the emerging class of mobile devices like the Netbooks.

Most of the features mentioned in the comic book and Google’s blog post indicate that features such as faster JavaScript VM, better memory management, better Windows UI rendering, faster text layout and rendering and intelligent page navigation are all features that make absolute sense in a mobile browser. I wouldn’t be surprised that that many of these features end up back in the Android browser.

In recent months, there have been rumors that Android is going to work on more than just mobile phones. Given the light-weight footprint of these devices and Google Chrome’s focus on “web applications” it would make perfect sense for Google to chase this opportunity.

Mathew Ingram points out, “Google clearly sees the browser as a form of operating system — just as I think the Mozilla group.” I agree, and also I agree with John Furrier’s contention that browser-as-OS war is only beginning. What are your thoughts about this development?

70 Responses to “Why is Google Releasing a Browser?”

  1. Prashanth

    I think the browser is another outlet for their ad-display business. Now they can just run AdSense on the whole web, and not just when the authors of the webpages put it in. One Google ad for every webpage you visit!!!

    Do you think something like AdBlock would be available for Chrome?

  2. I don’t believe that Google thinks they themselves are releasing a browser. They’re not. A web browser has always been about one thing: rendering web sites correctly, but still making the user aware what they’re running.

    What Google is obviously doing with Chrome is getting rid of the web browser and replacing it with a transparent new platform. The web when it started was merely a one-way device: showing people information. With the advent of AJAX and other two-way forms of communications between the client and the server, we’re returning to the days of pre-Microsoft’s rule of the desktop platform. I said for years (starting back when I ran a multinode BBS in the 90s) that client-server would reign supreme.

    Google knows this. Operating systems, as they run today, are aging and will slowly die. Wasting trillions of unused processor ops while your PC sits dormant is a huge waste of resources and energy. With the return of the client-server environment, shared resources will be the most efficient way to create a more useful network. Google knows this, as well.

    As we progress to faster forms of wide area networking (“the Internet”), the difference between locally installed and maintained applications and remotely access applications will get slimmer and slimmer. Remotely accessed applications offer non-power users a great enhancement: never updating applications, never worrying about security or bug fixes, never worrying about installing applications that may be incompatible with whatever OS or other app you’re running, and having a remote store for your data, which can be backed up without your intervention.

    Google is wise to go forward with a transparent platform for their future apps. Google Docs is a huge boon for my business. I use it 2-3 hours a day, and haven’t loaded Microsoft Office or OpenOffice in months. Google Mail for Domains is also amazing, as I never have to worry about archiving or backing up my emails. Google only has one issue right now: the compatibility of the user platform.

    With Chrome, Google has taken a step forward to getting rid of the browser entirely, not making a new one. They’re ready to take over the desktop by giving users an excellent option: not worrying about what they’re running on their end, and allowing Google to freely maintain the users’ applications and data, transparently, safely, securely, and even at no cost.

    Microsoft is screwed.

  3. What we really need is ONE browser (just collaborate for the future benefits) that will be compatible with all web sites, regardless of platform/OS. It is ridiculous that one browser cannot be used for all financial sites a user must visit, although Safari is getting better at this.

  4. Google Chrome will fail. I think it will not be adopted by the developers and Google will have another dead application in their portfolio.

    Let’s take a look at that Google Apps engine – it is far from popular.
    The real win is as you said in the hyper link – Webkit

  5. A long wait….. but ended with a smile. I always advocated that I don’t need an OS but just a Browser-for-Life. I hope Google got that. Sadly, kind of open source browser, Mozilla is going damn slow on Mobile Browser it is good to see that space could be patched by GOOG.

    What about IE!! It is waiting to be murdered… by forces of open world.

  6. The browser is going to be the OS of Web 2.0 and beyond. How can Google let someone else have control of the market without making any effort to enter it. But this is definitely a project which has been very successful in keeping itself secret. Everybody knew about Gphone before Andriod was released . But chrome was nowhere to be heard of before Philipp Lensenn received the comic book. Are the blogs losing their touch? :)

  7. Hey Michael,

    I agree with the analog on “open source hardware” and why Apple lost the PC revolution to Microsoft. But that also belies the reason that Microsoft was able to crush competition and win the market. They embraced compelling new technologies (usually co-opting innovation from others), integrated them tightly into OS, tools and applications and then leveraged this position to extinguish the competition.

    That said, the PC revolution was all about “good enough” which is part of the reason that ubiquity was more important than optimal experience.

    Today, Apple is benefiting from a wave when raising the user experience bar is the goal, which is a key reason’s Microsoft’s open hardware strategy isn’t cutting it, nor are open source efforts shaping the market in terms of mobile, media or computing devices (yeah, open source OS variants drive a lot of these devices but that’s not where device differentiation lies).

    My only point is that if Google wants to matter in this arena, being open source is only part of the equation. Raising the bar by integrating, linking and optimizing the browser to run their native applications exceptionally well is the best way to change the equation.

    Here is a post I wrote that analyzes whether being the LCD solution or the HCD offering is the preferred path in today’s market:

    Pursue the Highest Common Denominator

    Check it out if interested.


  8. Mark said:
    “The smartest bet would be getting religion and ensuring that there is a common API set across all Google apps and services so that minimally, Google-ware runs best on their browser. That is how Microsoft became Microsoft after all, a strategy that Apple has followed, and improved upon by integrating not only OS and software, but hardware and service layers as well.”

    Mark, I’m not sure I agree. Arguably, MS’s win was because it was an early version of open source: open source hardware. Apple was Apple before MS was even on the scene. Apple used proprietary hw and sw. The IBM PC was an architecture and MS DOS. For the first time, others could copy the architecture and sell PC-compatible machines. The ‘open’ architecture allowed other players to enter the market and expand. Arguably, the Mac OS was a better OS, but the open marketplace of PC compatible stuff was what took off.

    I’m not convinced that a “Google” browser can take over. I would guess that those who adopt a Google browser will use Google services. Therefore, Yahoo and MS will not be big supporters of the Google browser. Neither will any company that wants to compete with Google/Picasa/Grand Central/Orkut/…

    Firefox is non-aligned with any given vendor. They do have their defaults set to Google, but Yahoo can easily set up their own Firefox download with defaults set to Yahoo.

    I see three possible outcomes for Chrome. 1) It is a admirable effort and a failure. 2) Google takes this into its 60-some percent SEARCH market share (but not share of the web) and tries to googlize the world. 3) This browser tries to rise above Google’s world to become the standard for use across all web sites.

    For the third scenario, I suspect it will have to succeed as open source. IOW, its ownership would need to spread beyond its Google roots to become ‘owned’ by some independent party such as Mozilla. Even if Chrome totally beats Firefox, it seems to me that Mozilla can still have a role. Ongoing ownership and nurturing third party developers that are not aligned with google requires an independent party. As long as Mozilla is open to creativity whereever it occurs, they should have no problem adopting any interesting parts of Chrome.

    However, I’m not forecasting that Chrome will win. Many interesting concepts have fallen short. Firefox has a clear lead now, and sooner or later I suspect we will see a Google backlash as it grows more and more dominant. I’m just thinking through the consequences on Mozilla and the industry if Google is able to deliver.

  9. Google’s desktop products never really kicked off as compared with Microsoft’s (Office) or Adobe’s (Acrobat, Flash).

    Writing a browser is a big deal, it took many iterations for Mozilla to get it right. Both IE (7.0+) and FF (2.0+) have raised the bar, we have to wait and see how Google fairs in this new turf. My biggest concern is security, I hope ‘Chrome’ doesn’t leave surfers more vulnerable than they are today.

  10. the JVM here seems to be a key component – just like the android machine…. good move imho. Firefox is collateral damage. Browser is the new desktop and green is the new black.

  11. Ooooo – Tabs on top.

    >> So why are we launching Google Chrome?

    To quote Freddie Mercury and Queen – I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now.

    Seriously, nothing they’re talking about couldn’t have been done with their partnership with Mozilla.


  12. Humphrey Bogus

    This is much worse for Mozilla and its $100M/year subsidy than it is for Microsoft. Neither GOOG nor MSFT depend on the browser itself for profits. No matter what IE’s browser share is, I doubt Microsoft makes much money from it (since the only real monetization opportunity is via traffic to the MSN start page as the default home page, or a Mozilla-like deal with Google).

    This is a big thumb in the eye to Mozilla, though, whose browser is directly subsidized by Google (in effect) and whose browser is apparently not up to Google’s standards to the point that they’d go write their own.

  13. Somewhat suggestive that Google is increasingly tilting towards Apple’s strategy of building proprietary functionality that is deeply integrated to deliver superior end-to-end user experience (integration is independent of decision to open source). Traditionally, Google has built a bunch of functional silos that are only loosely coupled, pursuing ubiquity over optimized experience.

    The question is whether Google has the chops to build a superior application experience across a development lifecycle, as this takes tremendous coordination/orchestration. If it looks like Google Maps they will be in great shape. If, instead, it looks like more like Gmail, it’s not gonna tip the needle.

    The smartest bet would be getting religion and ensuring that there is a common API set across all Google apps and services so that minimally, Google-ware runs best on their browser. That is how Microsoft became Microsoft after all, a strategy that Apple has followed, and improved upon by integrating not only OS and software, but hardware and service layers as well.


  14. Joey Tyson

    It’s been so weird to watch TechMeme today… between the iPhone and this, it’s like the browser wars have started all over again. And yet they’re so different from last time around, since most of the browsers are working to follow accepted web standards. The next few months/years will be fun to watch…

    @Hardeep: Not really – since WebKit is the core rendering engine, it will likely render very similar to Safari.

    @sri: That was one of my first thoughts, but the browser is open source, so everyone will know if Google is harvesting data and how much. It’s still a possibility, but we’ll just have to see.

  15. Does the world need yet another Web browser? Why not just collaborate with Mozilla on Firefox? Webkit + Firefox + Chrome stand a better chance together rather than apart don’t they? Feels to me like the million Linux distros and their corresponding desktops. If they could all get together, users would be better off.