Superman had kryptonite, but Google’s weakness has yet to be discovered. The self-proclaimed doer of no evil on Wednesday released a comic book introducing Chrome, its new internet browser designed to compete with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.
The aim, like much of Google’s actions, is not to make money immediately – a browser generates no revenue. Rather its strategic importance lies in its role as the vehicle to travel the online world. The rise of open-source Mozilla Firefox – which Google has supported – indicates there is a market for an alternative to Microsoft: Mozilla has taken a fifth of the browser market in just a few years, even though Internet Explorer often arrives pre-installed.
Influencing where users visit, through ownership of the browser, will become increasingly important as more software and services are delivered online. For instance, Google also launched a separate business programme for online collaborative video production on Wednesday. Its mix of services, including mail, basic applications and photo sharing, are not yet a serious proposition for large businesses. Rather than replace existing software, they sit alongside it. Still, the long-term trend in software appears to be towards online delivery, and Chrome represents another advance into Microsoft territory.
Indeed, what is striking about the release of Chrome is that the detail reads a lot like the launch of an operating system. The focus is very much on managing memory, security and running applications, responsibilities that might more normally lie with Microsoft Windows. Chrome is also built from the same underlying engine as Android – Google’s platform for internet applications on mobile phones. It is far too early to predict trouble ahead for Microsoft, but Google’s ambitions are clearly bold. Perhaps Microsoft should recruit Lex Luthor.
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