Chrome: The shiny finish on Google

Google’s announcement of the now-available beta of its new browser, Chrome, sent shockwaves through the industry chock-a-block with viable browsers, including the heavyweight Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and open-source upstart Mozilla Firefox.

But checking in with analysts and industry watchdogs revealed that the move on the browser market might really be a distraction for the real play: to dominate the desktop space.

Dave Webb blogs on Chrome

Google strips for new browser

The open-source Google Chrome includes a combined search and address bar, snapshots of recently visited Web sites, robust independent tabs, and a new JavaScript engine. The name recognition alone might lure the curious into the new product, said IDC Canada analyst Kevin Restivo, and user curiosity will inevitably override any internal IT policy. “Employees will download it whether IT wants them to use it or not,” he said.

Users might hit a snag, however, when their new preferred browser doesn’t jive with the internal custom applications, or Internet Explorer-centric offerings. “This requires a lot of change management from the IT department,” said Forrester Research analyst Sheri McLeish. “Most IT shops have an understanding of Microsoft Internet Explorer and have built things to work with it.”

Plus, said Restivo, Firefox’s impressive functionality means that Google would have to offer up some pretty impressive features to present it as a true player in the browser space.

But, as a package deal, Google’s new browser might be a more attractive proposition. “It’s de rigeur for Web-based companies to try and make in-roads to the enterprise, but, it is important to note that search and adwords have done well, their apps haven’t exactly been a slamdunk,” said Restivo.

It would be in Google’s best interest to worm its way into the enterprise by offering up a complete experience that would appeal to a company looking for an all-Web experience. “It would give Google a much larger wedge into the enterprise if their goal was to turn everything you do into a Web-based experience—that would give Google its own gateway, to become the next-generation operating system,” he said.

McLeish said, “As an entrant to the browser market? No. As a company, they take away the desktop instead by combining the browser with productivity tools. Then, they can bypass Microsoft altogether.”

Microsoft is no slouch in this area, either, said Info-Tech Research lead analyst Tim Hickernell. Along with Adobe and its Air product, Microsoft has been moving more toward things like Silverlight, Vista’s Web capabilities, and its “software plus services” push.

This “experience” was even present in the terminology of the Google announcement, said Hickernell, when execs kept using words like “user interface” “application” to suggest a portal, rather than a straight-up browser.

According to Mark Evans, who runs the popular blog, Mark Evans Tech: A Canadian Take on the Web and Technology, “Google has realized that cloud computing has replaced client computing and that software-as-a-service is the new reality. If you’re going to wave the flag that cloud computing is in, then the operating system is the Web browser, and if you don’t have one, you can’t participate in the changes you want (to see in the market).”

He added, “We live more and more in browsers, whether it’s Web-based applications, e-mail, or multi-media. The challenge is to make it as easy as possible.”

As for users, the name “Google” will have a warmer, fuzzier feeling for CIOs who are “often reluctant to change horses in midstream,” said Evans. “Firefox is open source and seen as the Wild West, so not a lot of CIOs have enabled Firefox. But Google has a better reception.” (Indeed, said Hickernell, Firefox stands to lose the most clients to Chrome.)

From a management perspective, Chrome could do well. Said Evans: “They might like the stripped-down aspects of it—it won’t consume a lot of resources, including computing power and bandwidth. The browser also offers new features around multimedia, applications, and content.” The idea of a simple Web browser could be the final tipping point for CIOs, said Evans, who have long been searching for the best usability in that space and come up empty often.

Google might need to form some meaningful partnerships to get the best value, however, said Hickernell: “A post-it-and-download strategy probably won’t work, but by partnering with enterprise applications would be smart. If they’re simply pointing to themselves and their enterprise applications as they stand now, that isn’t realistic.” One potential partner, he said, would be

Google might not stop at the desktop, either, said Evans. With their Android project, the company could “double up on their research” and head more into the mobile market. “It’s a sign of things to come,” said Evans.

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