By Harry McCracken | Monday, September 1, 2008 at 12:28 pm
(UPDATE! I’m conducting a poll about Chrome–please go here to take it, and to get a recap of all of Technologizer’s Chrome coverage.)
Four years ago, I blogged about rumors that Google was working on a Web browser. I found ‘em intriguing, as anyone would, but no such browser ever appeared, and Google became an enthusiastic Firefox booster. The blogosphere pretty much stopped pondering the possibility of a Google browser, and so did I.
Today brings news that the rumors were apparently premature, not wrong: Google Blogoscoped has published an amazing comic book by Understanding Comics’ Scott McCloud introducing Chrome, Google’s browser. (UPDATE: I’ve condensed the comic into a highlight reel.) Over at All Things Digital, Kara Swisher says that Chrome may be formally announced as soon as tomorrow. (UPDATE: Kara dropped me a note to say she’s confirmed Chrome will arrive on Tuesday.) (EVEN FURTHER UPDATE: The Google Blog now says that Chrome will be available for download tomorrow; it’s Windows-only at the moment, but Mac and Linux versions are in the works.)
It all leaves me with about a gazillion questions. Here, for starters, are ten of them:
1. Will Google stop promoting Firefox? It’s been known to use the Google homepage to tell IE users they should be running Firefox, and it distributes a version of Firefox with the Google Toolbar built in. You gotta think that it’ll redeploy some or all of its Firefox-boosting energies to drumming up interest in Chrome.
2. Will Mozilla decide Google is an enemy, not a friend? Probably not–as Kara notes, the companies recently extended the relationship that makes puts Google into Firefox as its default search engine until 2011. That deal makes Mozilla millions of dollars a year, which is presumably enough to make Google at worst a frenemy of Mozilla. It’s hard–although not impossible–to imagine Mozilla being so ticked off by Google launching a browser that it takes its search business to someone else, such as Yahoo.
3. Did Google tell Mozilla it was working on a browser? Out of courtesy, or to ensure that the Firefox deal, which makes millions for Google as well as for Mozilla, emerged unscathed? Or did Mozilla renew the partnership not knowing that Google was planning to become a competitor? In the great scheme of things, it’s no surprise that Google might want to build a browser, but conventional wisdom would likely have involved it being based on Mozilla, not Webkit.
4. Just how hard will Google push Chrome on the Google homepage? Like no other company on earth, Google has an opportunity to get hundreds of millions of people using its browser in a relatively short amount of time. You gotta think that it’ll use the Google homepage to drum up interest. But will it check to see if you’re using IE, Firefox, or another browser and attempt to convince you to switch?
5. Will Google try to convert Google Toolbar users into Chrome users? Toolbar is presumably Google’s most widely-used piece of software at the moment, and it seems inevitable that Google will want to let users know about Chrome. But will it, say, try to bundle Chrome into the Toolbar download from now on? Apple discovered that bundling is dangerous when it caught flack for distributing Safari for Windows via the iTunes updater.
6. How deeply will Chrome be integrated with other Google projects? It’ll include Gears. Will it tie into Google Maps and Google Print and Google Desktop and the 18,432,922 other Google projects in ways that a non-Google browser wouldn’t?
7. Or to put that last question another way, will Google services work better in Chrome than other browsers? A conspiracy theorist could easily come up with scenarios in which Google starts to tie together its offerings in ways that resemble the tactics that Microsoft used in the 1990s to drive IE adoption and discourage use of Netscape. Google is too smart and too well intentioned to go down that route in the same way, I’m sure. But even a company with good intentions might do things that reasonable people (or even the courts think are anti-competitive.
8. Just how popular could Chrome get? Can it get to ten percent marketshare? Twenty? Forty? Ninety? Firefox has shown that it’s possible for a good new browser to gain plenty of traction, and Chrome will have advantages that even Firefox doesn’t have in terms of distribution.
9. Who will it steal users from? Kara says that Chrome is at least a part a response to Google concerns that IE 8 may be bad for Google’s search-and-advertising business. So the company would presumably be pleased if IE users jump ship for Chrome. But if you can divide the world into folks who will switch to a better browser and those who won’t, a high percentage of the former group has likely already moved to Firefox. You can imagine a scenario in which the arrival of Chrome results in Firefox’s marketshare gains stalling. Or even in Firefox use eroding.
10. Will Chrome stay on the desktop? Google sees its future as being highly mobile, as witness its work on Android and all the work it’s put into making services like Gmail and Google Maps work well on iPhone, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, and other mobile platforms. Will we see Chrome on phones?
I could go on–but for now, I’ll stop my pondering. Your speculation and additional questions would be welcome. And needless to say, I can’t wait to try Chrome, assuming that it’s real and imminent…