News analysis: Another Google Video in the making?
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.
Internet Explorer's stranglehold
The average computer user tends to lack the technical know-how or motivation to change from their default browser, Internet Explorer, giving Microsoft around 60 per cent of the market without even trying. Despite being the only really viable alternative to IE's domination, Firefox has struggled to gain above 20 per cent of the market.
In spite of Google's huge brand leverage analysts feel Chrome could still struggle to gain a foothold when faced with consumers who prefer to stick with what they know.
David Mitchell, VP for IT research at analysts Ovum, said: "Internet Explorer is still used by about 60 to 70 per cent of people and there is a big chunk of the population who are remarkably reticent to change platform.
"I think that Google will grab market share but whether they will knock IE off the top spot is another scenario."
Microsoft itself is confident of IE's unassailability. The company said: "The browser landscape is highly competitive but people will choose Internet Explorer 8 for the way it puts the services they want right at their fingertips, respects their personal choices about how they want to browse and puts them in control of their personal data online."
Bad track record
Despite Google's search dominance, its other homegrown applications have failed to attract anywhere near the same popularity.
It was one of the first companies to enter the social networking market with orkut but the site remains largely unknown outside of Brazil, and despite being launched before YouTube, Google Video always failed to match its popularity, eventually forcing Google to buy up its rival.
Similarly, despite being perhaps the most well-known Google branded app outside of search, Gmail still lags behind Windows Live Hotmail.
Nate Elliott, research director at analysts Jupiter Research, said: "In most cases the products that Google has delivered on its own have failed.
"To achieve success they have had to buy in services from elsewhere and not build them themselves."
With the Google brand already ubiquitous worldwide, could the sheer scale of the search giant's reach start to scare consumers? Tor Odland, head of communications for rival browser Opera, thinks the brand's attempted dominance could prompt an anti-Microsoft style backlash against lack of choice.
He said: "You have to ask whether people want to use products and services from only one company. It is a return to the days of Microsoft.
"I wonder how people will feel about being so tied into one company - the one thing that the online world has taught us is that people like choice."
Damage to Google services
Google has traditionally taken a cross platform approach to its services and worked closely with its soon-to-be rivals Opera and Mozilla, and recently renewed a deal with Mozilla that puts Google as the default search in Firefox. Focusing on Chrome could see those all-important bonds start to loosen.
Odland said: "It is important that they keep testing their services for compatibility with other browsers.
"We hope that they will continue to work with Opera and Mozilla to deliver a better internet experience."
Jupiter Research's Elliott believes Google is hedging its bets: "They have given themselves plenty of time to make progress in the browser market while maintaining a strong presence in Firefox."
How to get it out there?
There is also the question of how Google will get Chrome onto people's computers in the first place. Will it take the Apple approach of bundling it with other application downloads as Apple did with Safari and iTunes or Sun's bundling of Java downloads with OpenOffice.
Ovum's Mitchell said: "One thing that has not been made clear is what is their distribution strategy? Are they going to rely on downloads straight from the Google site or follow the lead of Apple?"
Jupiter Research's Elliott said: "Firefox is by all accounts a fantastic browser and still has less than 20 per cent browser share. That speaks volumes about how big an advantage Microsoft has by installing IE on PCs."
On the other hand, see why Chrome may well be the next big thing…