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October 19, 2008

Google Chrome’s Real Target

There's a new contender in the browser wars, and this is no lightweight. Google has entered the fray with Chrome, its concept of an open-source browser. At first, many will think Google’s Chrome is targeting Microsoft Internet Explorer, along with Firefox from Mozilla, Apple’s Safari and Opera. But, if you probe into Google’s own story behind Chrome, they seem to be positioning it to transform the very way we use a computer.  And, the real target is the very core of Microsoft – Windows and Office:

Let’s take a look at typical computer usage today, and Google’s vision for the future.

Current Typical Computer Usage - You Likely:

  • Use a PC running a version of Windows or an Apple running Mac OS.
  • Use Microsoft Office, Microsoft Works, Apple iWork or Sun StarOffice for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations
  • Use Microsoft Outlook for email and calendaring.
  • Browse the Internet using IE, Firefox, Safari or Opera.
  • Run applications from software developers that typically use Microsoft Visual Studio for development of both off-line and on-line applications.
  • Are connected to the Internet some of the time, while some are connected to the Internet all of the time.

Computing with Google's Chrome - You'll Likely:

  • Be able to run Chrome from any platform, but can get a free version of Linux on a low-cost PC to run it.
  • Use free Google Docs for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations.
  • Use free Gmail for email and free Google Calendar for calendaring.
  • Browse the internet AND access everything else from free Google Chrome.
  • Run applications within Chrome built with JavaScript.
  • Want to be connected to the Internet all of the time to maximize the Google experience.

This is a direct and potent threat to Microsoft's operating systems, business applications, browsers, email, calendaring and development tools. So, what should Microsoft do to thwart the attack?

I see these potential problems with Google's approach:

  • People are slow to change. They're comfortable with their current operating system, browser, email, calendar, development tools and business applications. And, getting people to change the very way they do computing will be no small task. However, Google has an advantage in making these things free. They seem to only be concerned with generating additional ad revenue with their other ventures.
  • Google is new to so many of the applications and services they provide.  Google doesn’t have many applications or services that have been time tested.  Even Gmail still says ‘beta’.  While Microsoft has a wealth of experience in most everything they do.  We may not like the process, but Microsoft’s massive user base provides ample testing opportunities.  People have grown to trust Microsoft’s reliability in almost everything except early operating system releases.
  • Privacy concerns. Many people are wary to give Google any of their business or personal data for the very reason that they seem only concerned with generating additional ad revenue through the plethora of data collection they do.
  • Security concerns. Chrome, by using an older version of WebKit has several reported security flaws that leave users open to intrusion.  Google has nowhere near the experience Microsoft, Mozilla, Apple and Opera have in dealing with security issues.  Users in mass will want to know these concerns have been addressed before making Chrome their primary browser, or even having it run on their computer.
  • Full-time Internet access for the masses. Google is attempting to lessen this concern with Google Gears, but many of the services they provide require access.  When people in rural areas, on planes, and without the financial means can access the Internet full-time this concern will go away. To help this process along, Google has taken to rather extraordinary measures.  The FCC recently auctioned off the US 700 MHz wireless spectrum. With the strategic need to have people connected to the Internet full-time, Google actively participated in the auction, working to ensure that part of the spectrum was dedicated to open access from any wireless device. Because the 700 MHz spectrum has a long range and is able to penetrate walls easily, it has been considered by many to be the key to providing nationwide Internet access. Google has announced that they were not the winning bid for any of the spectrum, and it's likely that AT&T and Verizon will control most of it.  But, they did win an open access concession on part of the spectrum.


Where does Microsoft stand?

Microsoft is in an envious position of dominant leadership in operating systems, browsers, development tools, and office applications.  They are also strong in enterprise applications, server operating systems and database management.  So, they’ve obviously been doing something right for the last few decades.  But, Google owns the dominant search engine usage market share position, as well as online advertising, and several of the most visited websites on the Internet, and this attack on Microsoft is targeted and potent.

If I headed strategy at Microsoft, I would consider:

  • Making no strategic changes at all.  Microsoft tried to buy Yahoo! to bolster the only areas they trail Google – in search market share, online ad revenue and traffic on multiple web properties.  In hindsight, the failed bid may have been a huge success for Microsoft as the recent financial crisis is deeply affecting internet traffic and online ad revenue.  The previously described potential problems Google faces are not easily surmounted.  It may well be that Microsoft can change nothing, and continue to maintain market leadership in all the areas they currently possess.
  • Embrace the Cloud. Many of us use multiple devices (work computer, home computer, handheld devices, etc.), and we’re tired of having disparate systems and data.  The browser with our favorite bookmarks provides a sense of similar access from multiple devices.  With so many of us living in our browsers more often than our operating systems, cloud computing becomes all the more attractive.  If Microsoft can successfully offer Office, Outlook, system synchronization, and cheap online storage in the cloud, it would be a leap in usability for the online community.
  • Get the Justice Department involved. Microsoft has been the target of the Justice Department for years, and must have some very high ranking contacts there. Google would have us believe that privacy is overrated. The company's mission statement is to organize all the world's information, and make it universally accessible and useful. Their approach is at least open to scrutiny from Justice.  And, Google and Yahoo! have struck a deal to have Google provide the ads for Yahoo! Search.  With this deal, Google will control advertising for 90.91% of all searches.  Microsoft, along with many others, is already on Justice to look at this deal as creating a virtual monopoly in search.


So, how has Google Chrome affected browser market share since its launch?

Net Applications Global Internet Usage Market Share is tracking Google Chrome by the day, as can be seen here:

While Chrome got off to an impressive start, peaking at 1.48% usage market share within the first 24 hours of its launch, the early adopters are fading.  Usage share has been dropping since the third day after its launch, but has recently stabilized at approximately 0.7% to 0.8% market share. Initially, Chrome claimed all of its market share at the expense of Microsoft Internet Explorer. However, as of last week, the Chrome share was coming fairly evenly from all the other major browsers except for Safari.  But, since Chrome doesn't yet work on Mac OS that me be the reason why Safari is immune so far.

We have to keep in mind that Google hasn’t really been pushing Chrome yet.  The only marketing effort I've seen from Google is in sponsored links on search results for 'browser' or 'browsers' search terms.  On Google Search, Chrome is naturally the top sponsored link.  On Yahoo, it was 2nd.  And on Microsoft Live Search, I couldn't even find it in the first 5 pages of organic results (hmmm).  Safari, Firefox, Opera and even Netscape (although that link was broken) all showed up on the first page of search results from Live for 'browser', while Chrome was nowhere to be found.

Microsoft has been the target of Apple as well.  Apple’s “I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC” ad campaign has won rave reviews.  And, it has arguably been a key component to Apple’s gains in market share.  Microsoft took a while, but is fighting back with Jerry Seinfeld alongside Bill Gates in proud “I’m a PC” counterattacks.  That’s a more conventional market share battle, and conventional marketing strategies likely apply.  The battle with Google is anything but conventional though, and requires far more creative strategies and tactics.

So, while it’s too early to see any long term impact from Chrome, there’s little doubt about the real target.  How long will it take, and by what means will Microsoft respond?  Time will tell, and we’ll be tracking the results.


Net Applications provides Global Internet Usage Market Share for browsers, operating systems, search engines and ISPs.  Go to



Vincent Vizzaccaro is EVP of Marketing and Strategic Alliances for Net Applications a leader in Website Analytics and Internet Metrics.   He can be reached at


- Vincent Vizzaccaro