Google’s entry into the Web browser market has caused as much controversy as excitement, but corporate technology professionals risk ignoring its lessons about user experience. Get past the hype

Three things IT should consider about Chrome

After less than a month on the market, Google’s Chrome has been hit by what can only be described as the iPhone effect.

Much like Apple’s device, Chrome is an unexpected entrant to a market, Web browsers, that most industry watchers would probably have considered already saturated. Its debut has set off a seemingly unlimited torrent of media coverage and some early backlash among nit-picking reviewers.

The launch even managed to drown out other Google product offerings, such as video for business, that might otherwise have appealed to enterprises. As it stands, Chrome most resembles the iPhone in the questions and doubts it raises among IT managers as to whether they need to worry about it or not.

There is little chance, at least right now, that Chrome adoption by businesses will be at all significant. As compelling as its features may be, there is nothing that would obviously help companies to better achieve their business objectives by downloading it. No one wants to test and rewrite their applications just to keep up with the IT industry hype. There have also been a few security issues, some of which Google has addressed, and reported concerns about the amount of memory the browser uses, which Google has quietly ignored. Even Firefox has grown despite little in the way of demand from corporate IT departments. It’s probably fair to say that few firms will be clamouring for Chrome.

That said, Google’s ability to cap its first 10 years with a product that generates this level of buzz is worth examining in more detail. If any other vendor had released a new browser, it probably wouldn’t have attracted the same level of interest. Google, however, has a proven track record of effectively organizing information and bringing back credibility to the concept of “intuitive” software tools. Technology professionals should keep three points in mind:

Minimalism can sell a feature set. Within a day of its launch, enough people had downloaded Chrome and played around with it to talk knowledgably about the experience. No real menu, no title bar, just a page icon and a wrench to see browsing history and other options. In contrast, Microsoft supplied reviewers of Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2 with a guide that exceeded 30 pages of detail.

For users, a browser and their “desktop” are the same thing. As more productivity applications such as mail, calendars, spreadsheets move online and portals become more sophisticated, the browser is probably more important to users than the actual machine they’re working on. Anything that makes that user interface more attractive or easier to manage will have high appeal. IT departments can’t afford to ignore that, whether they stick with IE or not.

If you want a better IT environment, help create one. “Google Chrome is far from done. We’ve released this beta for Windows to start the broader discussion and hear from you as quickly as possible,” the company said on its Web site. That isn’t just a call that consumers should answer. IT departments should take an active role in discussing the Active X incompatibilities, lack of group policy settings and installation headaches that Google needs to address. With Chrome, Google isn’t just leaving it up to users to browse around for the information access point that best suits them. It’s asking all of us to join in the search.

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