Google’s beta launch today of its own open source browser, Chrome, is an unsurprising step that complements Google’s ongoing efforts to own the desktop and take market share away from Microsoft. While others have tried to and failed to chip away at Microsoft’s desktop browser IE, Google has good reason to think it can go head-to-head with MS — it has the eyes of consumers in North America and Western Europe, and access to millions of people and resources to further own the desktop experience building upon search, email, and calendaring. This isn’t simply a play for the browser market; it’s a component of a larger, long-term strategy to take over the desktop.
The surprising part of the announcement of Chrome is the question it raises around Google’s investment in Mozilla and the open source browser Firefox. According to a recent Forrester survey, Firefox now has nearly 20 percent of the browser market and is the closest competitor to Microsoft. While many are scratching their heads at why Google would look to compete with itself, the likely scenario is that Firefox and Chrome can work together to erode Microsoft’s browser market share. Firefox, with 200 million users, has already been appealing to the tech set as the open source alternative for the anti-Microsoft crowd. The Chrome browser can take advantage of Google’s greater brand recognition, can leverage Google’s presence as a search tool to increase awareness of Chrome, and it can evolve to suit Google’s vision of the desktop experience and differentiate itself from the current browser paradigm. It’s not just anti-Microsoft and open source, it’s what Google is calling the "modern" browser, built from scratch without the baggage of past.
But the question remains about how Google can get people to adopt Chrome. For users to switch browsers they must 1) be aware of alternatives and 2) have compelling reason to do so. The choice of browser for most people is tacit. They use whatever comes installed with their computer or is provisioned by IT. Since IE comes bundled with Windows, most people are still using IE. Even Microsoft is challenged to get people to upgrade browsers to its latest versions. So despite the differentiating features like running complex web applications better on back end, for the enterprise, Google Chrome may present the same issue many have with Microsoft — fear of lock in, but now not solely with Microsoft, but Google as well. And there are questions of interoperability. Will Google’s apps only work, or work much better with their browser? How interoperable will it be? Until these questions can be effectively addressed, the immediate threat to Microsoft’s desktop dominance is minimal.