After an inadvertent unveiling yesterday, Google today will officially launch a beta of an open source Web browser called Chrome in 100 countries for Windows users only. There’s a comic book explaining the technical aspects, but the net is that Chrome is designed to be a more reliable foundation for Web browsing and running serious applications than today’s Web browsers:
On the surface, we designed a browser window that is streamlined and simple. To most people, it isn’t the browser that matters. It’s only a tool to run the important stuff — the pages, sites and applications that make up the web. Like the classic Google homepage, Google Chrome is clean and fast. It gets out of your way and gets you where you want to go.
I certainly sympathize with the reliability and speed objectives, but have to observe that a good deal of useful Internet Explorer and Firefox functionality is provided by add-ons (both commercial and free) and there will be a dearth of them initially for Chrome. (I am assuming they are permitted.) Still, Chrome seems to be a long term Google project so plug-in availability will surely evolve with time.
The bigger question, of course, is how Chrome will affect Internet Explorer and Firefox. For the former, the competition will undoubtedly spur Microsoft to greater efforts than their sometimes desultory development of IE, since they will rightly view Chrome as yet another attempt by Google to move applications from the Windows client to the Web.
As for Firefox, the folks at Mozilla are taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the obvious competitive threat while proceeding with their normally aggressive development schedule. That surely is the right approach for them since Google is famous for launching numerous ships, many of which gain little headway. Presumably Mozilla’s lucrative advertising deal with Google is still good, but adoption numbers may drop now that Google has a new favorite browser.
Although I’m sure Google would be thrilled if Chrome grabbed a sizable chunk of market share, winning a "browser war" is not its real goal. Its real goal, embedded in Chrome’s open-source code, is to upgrade the capabilities of all browsers so that they can better support (and eventually disappear behind) the applications. The browser may be the medium, but the applications are the message.