Chrome challenges Microsoft's browser heartland


The Chrome browser underpins Google's efforts to expand from search to applications, as part of a broader business diversification. This is a diversification that is both necessary and timely, writes Laurent Lachal, senior analyst at Ovum.

Until now Google focused on delivering various applications rather than integrating them. Chrome could herald a change in this strategy. The implicit assumption behind the announcement is that Chrome will not just be a particularly good platform for Google's own applications but also the starting point for a more integrated experience across these applications, irrespective of their underlying platform (PCs as well as devices).

Indeed, Google is very keen to improve users' browsing experience with a focus on speed, simplicity (as with the Google homepage), stability (claiming that Chrome is 'rock solid') as well as security (based on lists of phishing and malware software/websites and on the 'sandboxing' capabilities of the JavaScript VM and multi-process design).

Chrome's built-from-scratch JavaScript VM provides operating system and hardware platform independence (and runs applications faster by running machine code rather than interpreted code, among other tricks). Its multi-process (rather than multi-threaded) design provides the same isolation capabilities found in operating systems. It turns each tab into an independent application environment with its own controls and URL box. This design prevents tabs from crashing the whole browser and enables them to move not just within the browser but also out to their own window.

Google will challenge not just Microperating systemoft's Internet Explorer browser (especially in the mobile browser space, on the desktop space it simply makes the forthcoming Internet Explorer version 8 look much less inspiring) but also its Windows desktop (by supporting richer web applications less dependent on standard operating systems). It is a much better bet against Windows than a Linux-based Google operating system (which, like the Google browser, has been talked about for years). Chrome is not about replacing Windows, though, as much as moving users beyond it.

It is much less of a challenge to Mozilla Foundation's Firefox browser. Its release comes a few days after Google renewed its partnership deal with the foundation, effectively funding it for another three years until November 2011. Mozilla's main challenge (to grow independent from Google's funding) remains unchanged. The foundation now has more time to get its act together in a market that, owing to Chrome, could become not just more competitive but also more open source browser-friendly. Eventually Chrome and Firefox could converge, but at the moment two strong players (Chrome with Google's mindshare as well as marketing and financial muscle, and Firefox with its market share lead and ecosystem) have more chance against Microsoft than one.

Chrome is only an experiment, in line with Google's usual approach to try various offerings and see which ones stick. Many become resounding successes others remain complete fiascos. It is too early to see which category Chrome will eventually find itself in. We expect success but it will be much more gradual and slow than most suppose and more likely in the mobile browser space than in the desktop one.

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