02 September, 2008

Google throws its hat in the Browser & OS ring with shiny Chrome

Joining a "war" is neither a decision taken easily or for that matter lightly, especially one that historically has seen incumbents muscle and push out thriving rivals, (see Microsoft (MSFT) and Netscape) but Google (GOOG) is not just any company, and it hopes that in the future of web computing Chrome wont just be any browser. And with it perhaps change completely the role of the browser from presenting web pages, to managing web applications in the computers of tomorrow.

Lofty ambitions I know, but this is the same company that has plans to index the entire web, present a photographic view of the entire world, create renewable energy cheaper than coal, and house the complete archive of human information since the start of the written age. Google's getting well compensated for the lucrative advertising network it pioneered in Search and with that comes radically thinking about ways to out-innovate, out-maneuver, and out-class anything offered by main competitors.

Google's newly released "Beta" Chrome web browser is another hat in the ring that contains Microsoft's Internet Explorer (70% market share), Mozilla's Firefox (20% share) and Apple's (AAPL) Safari (6% share). However it has the potential to avoid the also-ran results of other browser efforts and truly usher in an age of web-computing. If this sounds like techno-babble, that's because it is, and Chrome is definitely not any sort of catalyst for Google's ailing stock right now.

Unfortunately only blowout quarterly reports can do that for this richly valued company. The company is down significantly from all-time highs and Chrome will not get them back there anytime soon. This is an evolutionary step that just might end up being revolutionary when all is said and down.

Google's cash cow of serving up targeted advertising works now because it can collect information on users, their web habits and their searches. The more people who have Google Accounts and the more searches they do, helps Google tailor all those ads. Throw in the popular Google toolbar collecting user information and viola you've got an incredible breadth of information in which to base ad serving decisions on. However, browsers are evolving, not only from a functionality perspective but from a privacy perspective as well. Microsoft's newest browser will incorporate an InPrivate feature which will not store anything users do on the web if they choose to use it. If Google can't know what you've been doing on the web for the last 6 months those ads could start looking less and less attractive and Google will have to only rely on what users search for, assuming of course they use Google for search. Chrome has a similar feature but getting users on the Google experience is priority number 1 for the company.

While the above is a minor detail for browser technology, it is the main driver of Google profitability. The next driver of profitability, Google hopes, will be Web Applications, and their Google Apps suite which is shaping up with constant improvements to become a true Microsoft Office competitor. The difference of course is that Office you install on your own computer, whereas Google Apps, and the online suite of Productivity software, can be accessed from anywhere and collaborated on in real-time.

Industry people believe the browser will become the Operating System of the future!

Considering Microsoft's Windows is on 90% of computers, it is almost an impossible mountain to climb for someone new to create an Operating System. For Google, and looking into the future of web based applications the most logical step to creating an Operating System would be to create the Web Browser of the future. And in a matter of speaking they did.

Where previous browser were a single application that served up web pages and ran applications within itself, Chrome spawns processes for each web page or web application, and includes a task manager to manage them. If something crashed on one web page, only that web page would fail while others would remain perfectly isolated. Process Task Management, Individual Processes for each web application sounds a lot like an Operating System to me. If Google wants to get serious about challenging Microsoft in the OS and Business Software games in the years to come it needs to control how users will access their web applications. A Web Browser that controls each web application individually, and even each component of each web application individually, is exactly the steps Google has to take.

By creating Chrome they've started this journey, and by making the entire project open-source and given out for free, they can quickly and nimbly adapt suggestions, improvements and changes from the developer community at large. As with a first release there will always be kinks to iron out, however the prognosis looks really good, and with a feature set comparable to the fastest growing browsers, in terms of popularity, Firefox and Safari, Google has the brand power and the clout to make a real dent in this industry. It is hard gaining market share in anything, and in the browser-war it is notoriously difficult so by throwing its hat into thing ring, Google's also throwing caution to the wind and hoping they'll be early enough for the web revolution.

Just don't expect the revolution to happen overnight Traders!

Disclosure: Author owns GOOG

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