By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, September 2, 2009 at 2:47 am
One year ago today, Google released Chrome, a day after the news–at once startling and inevitable-feeling–leaked that it had decided to get into the browser business. (Lest we forget, Chrome remains the only major software product ever to be announced via comic book.)
Back on September 1st, 2008, I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to try Chrome and knew very little about it, but was so excited about the news that I cranked out a post called Ten Questions About Google Chrome. A year later, it’s easier to answer most of them. Shall we? (I skipped recapping question #3, which involved me wondering whether Google had given Mozilla a heads-up it was working on a browser.)
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.
One year later: Yeah, it stopped promoting Firefox. The companies still have a mutually beneficial relationship, since Google remains Firefox’s default search engine, and revenues from the ads displayed with search results helps fund Firefox development. And you can still get Firefox–optionally–as part of Google Pack. But Chrome is now Pack’s default browser, and there’s no question which product Google is rooting for in Browser War 2.0. (Hint: It’s the one with “Google” in its name.)
2. Will Mozilla decide Google is an enemy, not a friend? Probably not–as Kara [Swisher] notes, the companies recently extended the relationship that 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.
One year later: Google ads remain Mozilla’s principal source of revenue. And even if Firefox’s creator is uneasy about that–and I don’t know whether it is–I kinda doubt that it’s going to take its business to Binghoo.
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?
One year later: Google sometimes promotes Chrome on its home page when you view it in other browsers, although not continuously–or at least it isn’t doing so for me right now. Its ad for Chrome within Gmail strikes me as a tad pushy (it sticks an exclamation point–a rarity in Googleland–onto the end of its urgent-looking notification that Google Runs Faster in Chrome!) It’s also advertised its browser on YouTube and Facebook and even the boob tube. But I still have the feeling we haven’t seen what would happen if the company really decided to bang the Chrome drum.
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.
One year later: As far as I know, Google hasn’t tried particularly hard to turn all those millions of Toolbar users into Chrome users, and the company seems to be a good scout when it comes to avoiding slipping downloads onto your system that you didn’t specifically request. But enough Toolbar fans have tried Chrome that this brief post I wrote a year ago today on the lack of a Google Toolbar for Chrome is one of the most-read Technologizer items to date.
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?
One year later: Every once in awhile, I ask members of the Chrome team if they plan to meld their browser with Google services. They either don’t quite understand what I’m getting at, or want to tapdance around the issue–maybe because of the potential of criticism for Microsoftian conflicts of interest. I know of no real integration of Chrome with Google services, and the only place I’ve seen the company suggest that Google services are best used in a Google browser is in that Gmail notification.
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.
One year later: Again, Google does tell Gmail users that the service runs faster in Chrome. But I think the message there is not “We conspired to make our e-mail work best in our browser” so much as “Chrome runs rich AJAX services great, and Gmail is a rich AJAX service.”
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 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.
One year later: Chrome is getting more popular–but not at a particularly spectacular clip. New research says that Firefox has 23.3 percent market share (and growing) and Chrome has eked out 2.9 percent so far. And here’s a chart of how the two browsers compare in usage over at PCWorld.com–it shows Chrome growing slowly but steadily, and Firefox bumping around a bit but seemingly not losing users to Chrome in any consistent fashion:
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?
One year later: Even Android’s browser isn’t called Chrome. Google did indeed decide to take Chrome new places, but it was in operating system form rather than onto new platforms as a browser.
So there you go. Let’s end this with a few more questions 365 days later, and very brief answers…
Is it still hard to tell just how serious Google is about Chrome? Yes.
Is it a good sign that Google has released three major versions in the browser’s first year? Probably.
Do you worry that the existence of Chrome OS means that Chrome-the-browser is no longer an exciting shiny thing that Google will lavish attention on? I do.
Is it frustrating that it’s a year later and Chrome still isn’t finished for Macs? Definitely.
Do you harbor a secret fantasy that Google’s big Chrome birthday celebration today will include the release of Chrome for OS X? How’d you guess?
Do you use Chrome? Yes, much of the time when I’m using a Windows PC.
Is the world a better place because Google got into the browser business? I think so, yes.
Has the world changed because Google got into the browser business? Not much. At least not yet. Less than I might have guessed, anyhow.
If you’ve got any other questions, answers, or reflections on Chrome as it turns one, I’d love to hear them…