News analysis: Google - the new Microsoft?
Google dipped its mighty toe into the increasingly crowded world of internet browsers today with the announcement of its open source offering, Chrome.
After all the polished promises of a streamlined new way to tame the web, the blogosphere was ready to predict Chrome would inspire everything from the end of Firefox to the demise of Microsoft itself.
silicon.com spoke to industry experts and Google's new rivals to find out why Chrome matters and whether the browser reality can deliver on the hype.
Bye bye Microsoft
Chrome carries shades of an OS in a browser's clothing and Google's latest encroachment on Redmond's turf must have a few Microsoft execs sweating.
The way Chrome will allow users to run and manage applications without an OS' intervention could mean the beginning of the end for the days of Vista's bloatware.
David Mitchell, VP for IT research at analysts Ovum, said: "What you are seeing is the language of the browser coming very close to that of the operating system, with services provided at the browser level rather than the OS level.
"If some of the OS functionality is within the browser then there will be a demand for a more anorexic OS running underneath.
"It is a big step towards telling people like Microsoft that they are not so popular after all."
Chrome will provide a central point for the company's panoply of services and applications, offering a hub to consolidate everything from Google Maps and Docs to Gmail and Shopping.
Google already has millions of users on Google Apps - applications from calendaring to video, all hosted on its cloud computing infrastructure, and a Google branded browser is an obvious way to persuade even more users to start experimenting with the company's other web-based offerings.
Nate Elliott, research director at analysts Jupiter Research, said: "This is not a new idea, they have had the Google toolbar for four to five years with the idea of driving users towards their products and services. Now you will have what is a far bigger and better version of the toolbar to drive users towards those services."
Google has proved to be a master of wooing consumers, charming new users by offering free versions of traditionally paid-for services.
With 70 per cent of the world's web searches going through Google's search engine, the company has built up a brand awareness so strong that the verb 'to Google' is already part of the lexicon. It's this popularity that could give Chrome a headstart and quickly turn it into a contender.
Google's history of consumer-pleasing and unfussy design - think of its sparse, ad-free homepage - could serve Chrome well. Jupiter Research's Elliott said: "Google products are typically very easy to use and very consumer friendly.
"They focus extremely heavily on this relationship and everything that they do keeps consumers in mind."
Tor Odland, head of communications for rival browser Opera, said: "They have a massive footprint and Google will probably be more successful than another company trying this because of that."
No more lock-ups
It might sound trivial but the ability to kill individual tabs within Chrome could spell the end of the hair-tearing frustration of a single rogue web page bringing the entire browser crashing down.
Not only that but the way the browser will run every tab in an isolated "sandbox" can help provide better protection from malicious sites.
Ovum's Mitchell said: "Each tab is attached to a separate process and can be managed separately.
"It is a bit like what Window NT offered in terms of stability. Most of the current generation of browsers would crash if there was a badly behaved tab but Chrome can quit the tab and it will still work."
Microsoft too is working on the ability to kill a tab and still save the browser, with a similar feature showing up in IE8 beta 2.
If you can't beat them
Google is taking the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach with Chrome, shamelessly borrowing features from its would-be competitors.
These include the open source approach of Firefox; Opera's speed dial function, where a homepage presents thumbnails of your most visited sites; an "incognito" window for private browsing where nothing is recorded, similar to Safari and the forthcoming IE8; and an address bar with auto-completion features.
Opera's Odland said: "It is very much a market where everybody knows what everybody else is doing and you can expect Google to take innovations such as the speed dial homepage and tabs on top from Opera and vice versa."
Not convinced by Chrome? Read five reasons why it may crash and burn here...