Maxthon -- the Chinese browser vendor that introduced tabbed browsing to Internet Explorer before Microsoft itself did -- is poised to become a Google ally and partner, according to TechCrunch.com
TechCrunch reported on April 10 that Maxthon had sold a minority stake of approximately $1 million to Google and that the investment "is part of a 'much larger strategic deal' between the two companies."
I requested a comment from Maxthon on TechCrunch's report and had yet to hear back by the time this blog post was published.
The reasons for Google's alleged interest in Maxthon aren't hard to see. Maxthon is said to be the second most popular browser in China. (The first is Microsoft's Internet Explorer.) TechCrunch says there have been more than 80 million downloads of the Maxthon browser and cites one unnamed source as saying Maxthon-originated searches may account for up to 25 percent of total Baidu traffic. (Baidu is the leading Chinese search engine.)
TechCrunch is expecting any Maxthon-Google deal to include a provision for Maxthon to replace its default search option from Baidu and/or Yahoo with Google.
But my question is what would a Google-Maxthon tie-up mean to Microsoft?
After all, Maxthon is not merely an Internet Explorer (IE) competitior; it also is a Microsoft partner, given that it has built its browser atop the IE rendering engine (as have a handful of other browser vendors, such as SphereXplorer. Avant Browser and iNetAdviser).
Maxthon has played up its IE foundation as an advantage, claiming it has attracted users who wanted to be able to view pages that wouldn't display well in non-IE-based browsers, but who weren't keen on using Microsoft's offering. From an eWEEK story on Maxthon from last year:
"Maxthon executives said that by offering the best of both worlds in embracing the underlying stability of Microsoft's code and the attitude of something built by an open community of developers, it believes it can grow the browser's reach outside Asia."
At the same time, Microsoft has touted Maxthon as a partner and an example of how other vendors can build successful browsers atop the IE engine.
Given Google's close partnership with Mozilla, would a Google-backed Maxthon dump the IE engine in favor of Gecko, the rendering engine at the heart of Mozilla? Or would Google be more likely to push for Maxthon to remain IE-based, giving Google a stronger foothold in the IE browser marketplace?