Browser Wars Are Back
Early last month, Google Inc. intensified its tooth-and-nail competition with Microsoft by delivering an early version of its much-rumored browser called Chrome. Not only does Chrome present a significant challenge to the dominance of Microsoft's Internet Explorer, but the Google browser could also serve as a building block for an operating system that aims squarely at Windows.
A Google OS might have a leg up on Windows Vista -- and even Windows 7 -- as many desktop apps increasingly migrate to the Web 2.0 world. Such an OS could be two or three years away, most observers speculate.
What Google could do with Chrome as a browser has an interesting set of possibilities. Besides planting a flag in the PC-based browser market -- where it will compete with IE and the rapidly rising Firefox from Mozilla-it gives Google entry into the mobile market on a range of different devices, including the cell phone market. Chrome would obviously work very well with the long-rumored Google Phone, though there has been no time frame announced for when that device will be delivered.
Adding a bit more drama to this dynamic browser battle is the fact that Chrome's introduction represents a shift away from Firefox -- which owns almost 20 percent of the browser market -- a product that Google previously was strongly endorsing. In a consensus among several market researchers, IE owns 73 percent of the browser market, with Apple's Safari holding 6 percent.
First impressions of Chrome among users just days after the initial release were largely positive. Many liked its speed and performance, saying it was significantly faster than IE and Firefox.
"So far it's working really well for me and is unbelievably fast," says Michael Traylor, network administrator with Western Datapro Inc. "I have Vista on my home computer and IE is practically unusable because it crashes so much. I'm a big Microsoft fan and I'm a bit leery of Google, but I like Chrome so far."
While many were impressed with Chrome's speed, at least one company dug a little deeper and found the product wasn't as speedy as Firefox when used in real-world environments. In his company blog, Rafael Laguna, CEO of Open-Xchange Inc., says his company ran the product through a series of tests using the AJAX-based front-end of its collaboration software. The tests compared Chrome with Firefox 3 and IE7, and included launching Web forms for e-mails or accessing large inboxes. Laguna says Chrome wasn't as fast as Firefox, though it did outperform IE in most tests.
In his first take on Chrome, Harry McCracken of Technologizer.com states that the product is so far missing some key capabilities, such as support for RSS feeds and the "ability to zoom entire Web pages, not just text." He writes: "If the question is whether serious consumers of Web content should dump whatever browser they're using at the moment for Chrome, the answer is probably not."
Ed Scannell is the editor of Redmond magazine.