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Three reasons why Google Chrome isn’t a challenge to Microsoft’s OS business

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  1. 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!
  2. 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.

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{ 7 comments… add one }

  • Philipp Schumann September 2, 2008, 4:33 am

    Could also become an alternative (or "threat") to Adobe AIR once it runs on every platform — for those into developing "rich client" / offline apps solely on HTML + SVG + CSS + JavaScript + some embedded database (Gears, Air and iPhone's Safari all support small embedded SQLite DBs) + some backend language. Escpecially if they make the "some backend" part smoother.

  • Philipp Schumann September 2, 2008, 4:34 am

    And if — another big if — developers can easily deploy their own embedded web kit Chrome to every platform regardless of the libraries or software already-installed-or-not on the client.

  • Alec September 2, 2008, 8:42 am

    True enough Philipp. The fact that they’ve decided to open source Chrome could be an indicator that they’re thinking that way.

  • Google Chrome Review September 2, 2008, 2:42 pm

    Chrome is going to kill Microsoft browser!
    10 min download over dial up
    Much Much faster read my review
    Not crash prone like IE I tried to crash by open tons of tabs did not even hurt it same thing on IE would of locked up my laptop

  • Nathan September 2, 2008, 5:29 pm

    Right, it’s not a *direct* challenge to any OS. But if it drives all browsers to faster, more standards-based performance, it makes, for example, Google Documents look like more a viable alternative to Microsoft Word – especially to tech-savvy, cash-poor young people.

    And the less OS-dependent software you need, the less your OS matters. If you can run Ubuntu and use all the same (web-based) applications you normally use, you might think twice about paying for Windows.

  • media kingdom September 3, 2008, 2:22 pm

    should be interesting to see if Chrome works more efficiently than FireFox and IE… if it’s faster than Firefox, since isn’t IE, then i’ll use it

  • Thelonecabbage September 4, 2008, 9:20 am

    1. It has an API, it's called Gears. Amongst other things, it allows web applications to run disconnected from the web. This alone is a compelling reason to use Chrome. It's JS jit compiler is also optimized for large AJAX applications, the kind that replace office. As a MS developer you may find this strange, but many programmers are attracted to feature-free-standard-platforms.

    2. WebKit, the engine Chrome is based on, is famous for many things. Speed, beauty… and portability. Releases are already due for Mac and Linux. Using Linux as a hardware abstraction layer, Chrome could be a general install anywhere OS, for less than 64MB. Optimized to a single embedded platform it could fit in less than 15MB. Why reinvent the wheel? This is already being done with 'instant-on' bios splash OS's. What they lack is an attractive cohesive interface. Chrome is a very good pick for this.

    3. MS hasn't had a lock on distribution in years. Currently 2/3 of all laptops sold over $1k USD are Mac. And more than half of all systems sold under $500 USD are Linux. And computers don't mean desktops any more. 70 times as many cell phones are sold every year, as desktops. Game consoles, embedded platforms, smart devices etc.

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