Google Chrome: Winners and Losers

by Ostatic Staff - Sep. 02, 2008

Right now I know as much about Google's new Chrome browser as everyone else - which is to say, I've read the comic book and the relevant blog postings. Our own Sam Dean has a good roundup of the facts as they are known so far, and when the code actually ships, we'll bring you coverage of how it works. But let's assume for the moment that Google delivers everything they promise: what effect will this have on the wider market?

Here's my take on the winners and losers when Chrome ships in a final version:

Google: Winner. As Google applications grow more complex and more laden with Javascript, they need a browser that's tuned to handle these specific applications, with good process isolation and a fast Javascript execution engine. Expect Google to offer direct download links for Chrome from the home pages for applications like GMail and Google Docs. They don't need to take over a huge share of the browser market to win: they need to make their own applications rock-solid for increased business use. To that end, we'll see Chrome promoted as a single-site browser that you run alongside your regular browser, rather than as a straight replacement.

Microsoft: Neutral, potential winner. Chrome may well be technically superior to IE8 when they both ship - but in terms of market share, that won't matter. We already have a browser that's technically superior to the Microsoft offerings; in fact, we have several. They haven't succeeded in seriously diminishing IE's crushing market share in most niches. Looking at the fact that 25% of IE users are on IE6, you can see the overwhelming advantage that being part of Windows XP gives to that browser. Microsoft could even win from the release of Chrome, if Google ties the browser too closely with their other offerings and Microsoft can interest antitrust regulators in taking another run at the "bundling" theory.

Mozilla/Firefox: Loser. Yeah, we'll see plenty of rhetoric about a rising tide and all boats, about Google continuing to support the Mozilla Foundation, and so on. But who are the most likely users to switch to a new browser with fancy technology? Those who have a history of doing that: Firefox users. Especially if Chrome really does offer a compelling memory management story they'll make inroads with users who are sick of the Firefox RAM footprint.

Opera: Loser. Opera has been a favorite of the standards-compliant community all along, but with its WebKit basis, Chrome should be able to beat Opera on this front. Combine that with free and open-source, and Chrome is likely to siphon users - and money - away from Opera.

Apple/Safari - Neutral. Safari users are concentrated on the Mac (despite Apple's attempts to push it on to Windows), and by and large they're Mac loyalists. No browser from another company is going to tempt them away, especially when it slaps them in the face by being Windows-only in the first release.

Web 2.0 - Winner. Google isn't the only one out there shipping out a heap of Javascript disguised as a web page. Expect other companies like Zoho to add "works best with Chrome" to their applications, or to have their support people actively recommending it.

Web Standards - Loser. Yeah, WebKit is a great standards-compliant browser. But to the extent that shipping Chrome with Gears baked in can convince developers to target Gears, we have a loss in cross-browser compatibility. Smart developers will gracefully degrade. Run of the mill ones will opt for trying to dictate their users' browser choices.

FOSS Development Community - Potential winner. With Chrome itself being released as open source code, there's the potential of reusing some of its features in other projects. But we don't yet know what license Chrome will be released under, nor do we know how easy it will be to pry out the interesting chunks of code.