Magazine article Marketing

Andrew Walmsley on Digital: The Sparkle of Chrome

Magazine article Marketing

Andrew Walmsley on Digital: The Sparkle of Chrome

Article excerpt

Behind its unassuming facade, Google's new browser conceals the promise of web dominance.

The only billionaire I know collects earthmoving equipment. A visit to his house could well involve digging huge holes in the grounds, or filling them in. It's a contemplative process, a chance for him to indulge the engineer within.

I couldn't help thinking of him when I read Google's latest announcement, on the launch of its own web browser. Google Chrome will compete in an interesting market.

The earliest popular web browser was NCSA's Mosaic, in 1993. Within two years, Microsoft had launched Internet Explorer 1.0, for free, and the first browser war was under way. By 1997, it was all over and Explorer began its domination of the sector, leveraging Microsoft's distribution strength.

It is only recently that anyone has been able to challenge the Microsoft status quo.

Two things have made it possible. First, the emergence of open-source software (where groups of developers create free software for the common good) has undermined the position of the big companies. Linux in operating systems, Apache in web servers, MySQL in databases, PHP in web programming - these open-source projects dominate the web's architecture, fundamentally changing the business model for giants such as Microsoft, Sun, and IBM.

It has had an impact on consumers, too; witness the not-for-profit Mozilla Foundation's Firefox browser achieving a 20% share of the market. According to NetApplications.com, Internet Explorer's share has fallen from 80% to 72% in the past 18 months, with almost all of this going to Firefox.

If you install the Firefox browser on your computer, you will see a clue to the second big change: integrated into the toolbar is a search panel, which provides listings from Google.

Almost all of Mozilla's income derives from this search panel. Its deal with Google helped it earn dollars 61m in 2006, since when its market share has rocketed.

Google knows that loyalty to its brand is low. Web surfers will use whatever is to hand, which is why distribution is critical to the search engine's success, and also why Microsoft's first move, as it launched into battle with Google, was to build Windows Live search into Explorer.

The official Google blog is pretty lukewarm about the new browser - 'The web gets better with more options and innovations - Chrome is another option. …

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