Chrome may speed a post-Windows, mobile world

John Shinal · September 3, 2008 · Short URL:

Cloud computing on untethered devices will not be dominated by Microsoft

 It's getting harder to keep track of how many different ways that Google and others are working to upend the Windows-centric PC world.

First there was the open-source movement, with the promise of faster, better software development that can out-innovate the efforts of any single company.

Then there was SaaS, and Marc Benioff's mantra of the end of shrink-wrapped software. While wasn't selling directly against Microsoft at first, the subscription-based model is here to stay, despite having hidden costs.

But Google continues to be the biggest threat to Microsoft's PC hegemony. It has the deep pockets, brainpower and the ability to quickly release new products -- like its new Chrome browser.

By going head-to-head with a free, open source offering, Google has taken away one of Microsoft's great counter-punches -- the ability to undercut competing products on price. That's how the software giant killed Netscape and severely damaged Novell's Netware.

This move is a little bit of a twist on Google's foray into apps and email, because Google is going into a market where another upstart, open-source browser maker has already shown that it can take market share.

That would be Mozilla, whose Firefox has captured about 20% of the browser market and which has a search relationship with Google.

It raises the question of why Google didn't simply acquire Mozilla, since both firms will now be using open source development for a Web browser. The fact that Mozilla Corp. is owned by the non-profit Mozilla parent organization could have complicated things.

But there's another reason Google wants to have its own browser, and one that runs Web-based applications. It's the same reason that Google has launched its own mobile phone platform and is bidding on wireless spectrum.

While Google may love what the open source community has done so far on the desktop browser, the mobile version of Firefox won't be ready until later this year, as Mozilla's John Lilly told us.

And the easier way to eat away at Microsoft's dominance of personal computing software is not by fighting it on the desktop, but by beating the company to the place where most personal computing will be done five or ten years from now -- on mobile devices.

In fact, in countries with much more advance mobile networks, such as Japan and Korea, or developing countries with poor wireline coverage, like India, the majority of consumers already access the Web with their phones.

Plus, it's easier to pick a fight with Microsoft in an arena where it doesn't dominate.

Unlike the desktop operating system market dominated by Microsoft, the mobile market is much more fragmented, with Windows Mobile competing with Nokia-owned Symbian, Research in Motion's BlackBerry platform and the fast-growing iPhone from Apple.

The field is more wide open and getting more so, as Nokia turns Symbian into an open source offering and Apple sells more of its iPhones -- which combine its own mobile OS with the Safari browser.

Combining Chrome with Android on handhelds that are, like the iPhone, built to surf the Net and access Web-based application stores, Google will have the equivalent of a complete operating system for mobile users.

And because it's open source, it could easily borrow or absorb features developed from future versions of Firefox to push out innovative updates faster than Microsoft.

Chrome, either by itself or in combination with Firefox, may someday overtake Internet Explorer as a desktop Web browser. 

But my guess is that, not too far in the future, the mobile browser battle will be a more important front than the PC desktop in Google's battle against Microsoft.


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