I’ve been reading hyperbole-laden claims about Google Chrome this morning, including what Google had to say about it. Chrome will be a better browser, no doubt, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s definitely not a challenge to Microsoft’s operating system business, nor is it the second coming of Jesus Christ.
- While Chrome has lots of operating-system-like features, it doesn’t support a native API of it’s own. Moreover, since it’s designed to run web applications better rather than allow developers to build new kinds of web applications, it doesn’t appear possible for a developer to design an application that exploits some native feature of Chrome that will cause everyone to decide that they have to become Chrome users. The fact that there’s no application “pull-through” effect eliminates a compelling reason that users might have for switching from their current browser.
- A major function of an operating system is to abstract and manage hardware for the developer. One of the many reasons Microsoft Windows is so successful is the sheer breadth of hardware it supports. Chrome doesn’t know anything about the underlying hardware. Period. In fact, it relies on Windows to know about the hardware. You still need an operating system to run Chrome.
- Distribution. Oh yeah, Microsoft has that one locked up with their PC OEM channel. Google, if they were really planning to compete for the OS, would actually have to build an OS in order to satisfy the demands of these customers.
There are two actual threats to Microsoft that most commentators are overlooking.
- Google Gears, the offline browsing platform that Google has been hitherto unsuccessful at pushing into the market. I’m sure the rationale at the GooglePlex goes something like this: “If we Bundle Gears with a nice end user application like Chrome, the we’ll get onto lots of desktops and that will advantage our applications business.” Bingo!
- Android. Windows Mobile’s browsing experience sucks. Both Chrome and the Android browser are webkit based. Google could deliver a compelling and unified browsing experience on mobile and the web with Chrome. If Google can pull an iPhone with Android, based around a superior browsing experience, it could be the final nail in the Windows Mobile coffin.
Make no mistake. I’ll try and probably use Chrome myself, if for no other reason than they appear to be fixing a whack of problems that I experience with browsers every day. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves predicting the end of Microsoft’s OS business. A young man named Andreessen did that at another time – the mid 1990’s – and with another browser – Netscape. Look what happened there.
There’s more to an operating system than a browser.