Google finally released its long-rumoured web browser, Chrome last week. It's tempting to assume that Google's entry into any new market will be world-changing.
It's also dangerous: For every Gmail, Google Maps and Google Calendar, we've seen several services from the Googleplex that didn't change anything at all, such as Google Base, Google Product Search (née Froogle), Google Web Accelerator, Google Page Creator and Google Blog Search. The company has a tendency to launch interesting stuff and then lose interest in it; unless Google works very hard to improve and promote Chrome, the program might not amount to anything more than an also-ran in the browser race.
Then again, it wouldn't be the least bit surprising if Chrome did turn out to be a great big deal. What would that mean to other companies that make browsers or otherwise compete with Google? Let's consider the contenders one by one, starting with the rival that has the most to lose.
The timing of the Chrome announcement sure spoiled the coming-out party for Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2; its release last week now seems like ancient history. And if Steve Ballmer and company care about whether Internet Explorer's declining market share dwindles even further, Chrome must be unnerving. Firefox's success has shown that a bunch of volunteers with a good browser can hammer away at a Microsoft monopoly that had seemed permanent. When the biggest web company in the world comes along with a good browser, it might do far more damage.
Ultimately, though, Microsoft is surely less concerned about Chrome's potential impact on IE, a product it gives away for free, than on Windows, the one that's responsible for billions of dollars of Redmondian profit each year. As many applications continue to migrate from desktop PCs onto the web, plenty of buzz is advancing the idea that the centre of gravity in software platforms is shifting from operating systems to browsers. And Google has openly stated that it aims to make Chrome into a great foundation for sophisticated web applications that compete with desktop programs.
Chrome won't spell tangible trouble for Windows in the next few months, or maybe even the next year. Could it evolve into a serious threat to Microsoft's operating system over time? I don't discount that scenario, and neither, I'll bet, does Microsoft.
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