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What Took Google So Long?

I promise this will be my last post about Chrome for awhile, but one thing that has struck me since the world’s newest browser was unveiled on earlier this week is what took Google so long to do it.

In Wired’s “Inside Chrome” story, Google CEO Eric Schmidt is seen as being anti-browser when the idea was raised by Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 2001. “I did not believe that the company was strong enough to withstand a browser war,” he said. “It was important that our strategic aspirations be relatively under the radar.”

Schmidt’s reluctance can be somewhat understood given Google was still relatively small in 2001 but it is strange that it took until 2006 until the browser project was finally given the green light.

So what changed?

Was it the realization cloud computing made it a strategic necessity for Google to have its own browser? And why build a browser when Firefox was, in many respects, acting as Google’s browser proxy in the battle against Microsoft – a battle that Google was financially supporting through its search referral deal with Mozilla.

The other interesting thing about Chrome’s debut is how the critics have started to emerge after the initial burst of frenzied excitement. This includes a focus on Chrome’s end-user licensing terms, privacy issues related to the Omnibox, and whether Chrome is actually faster than Firefox.

Critics are part of any ecosystem, and often they yell a lot louder than proponents. But the push back against Chrome is strikingly similar in tone to what Microsoft usually receives, which says something about Chrome and, more important, something about how people now perceive Google.

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  • http://www.stefanhayden.com Stefan Hayden

    it’s clear to me that Google finally decided to move on their own browser when FireFox showed they would not develop fast enough as well as not in the exact direction Google wants.

    For google to push the web forward with a browser war they need to be in better control of what features and how fast they get pushed out.

    This should be great for users and it seems clear that google has committed to a fast development cycle which will keep bugs and other features coming.

    Eric thought google wasn’t big enough in 2001 and by 2004 FireFox was gaining popularity. Google put their weight behind firefox but after 2 years they just got tired of the slow pace. Google is world class company and thinks it can do it better and faster and so far I would say they were right.

  • http://webskills.wordpress.com Chris Schmitt

    I wonder if they released it too early. As google states: “We also built V8, a more powerful JavaScript engine, to power the next generation of web applications that aren’t even possible in today’s browsers.” Two of the most important features under the hood, V8 and the multiprocess architecture, won’t really shine until someone develops applications that will use them. At the moment people are underwhelmed because it’s just another browser.

  • researcher

    What is Wrong with Google??

    Just months after Mozilla releases a first-class free product that sets a world record for the number of free downloads, Google decides to move into the same market with a competitive product. We already have a stack of great browsers, and now that my freshly installed Firefox 3.0 is fully loaded with all my bookmarks, plug-ins and passwords, why would I want to even to beta test this Chrome creation? What on Google Earth are they thinking?
    So what should Google really be doing, rather than releasing copycat products onto an already swamped market? Here are five key areas where Google could really be making some positive impact.

    1. Bit Torrent traffic now accounts for almost half of the global internet traffic but as far as Google is concerned, all of this information might as well not exist. True, you can see what is on public trackers such as Pirate Bay or Mininova, but what about the tens of thousands of private trackers where the real action is located? For many of these sites, their main weaknesses are their search capabilities and their relatively small communities. As TV quickly converges with the internet, this is an area where Google could really become a major player. If it were my call, I would go for a zero tolerance policy towards file sharing on the main web search, and release a specialist torrent search software that focuses solely on this rapidly expanding sector of the market. If Google had put the same efforts into a private torrent aggregator as they have into a browser, I would be investing my life savings into the stock.

    2. One of the company’s best products so far has been Google Earth, but why has it not been taken to its full potential. What happened to the merger of Google Earth and the traditional travel guide-books using this revolutionary new perspective? Where are the KML links pinpointing the geographical locations of all the fantastic documentaries that are now available on the torrent networks? A virtual map of the Earth is a great place to start building a new business empire. We already have a good selection of web browsers to choose from, what we want now is a good Earth browser.

    3. Some pundits have conjectured that the release of Chrome coincides with a new release of IE which by default blocks all ads, depriving Google of its life-giving revenue stream. Advertising in all its forms has always suffered from eventual market fragmentation. While the databases and software required to run this kind of ad placement might be ultra complex, the idea itself is not. Even with all the creativity of its best artists, producers and directors, the traditional ad industry is an continually developing arms race for getting the message out to consumers. Google cannot sit back on a few flashy logarithms and expect the success to last forever. Already many other ad placement set-ups are appearing, that will quickly lay siege to Google’s rather precarious peak position. In other words do not expect online ad revenues to keep on climbing indefinitely for Google. From almost one hundred percent, the market share can only shrink. I only hope that Google will refocus on its core business which is providing information.

    4. The real problem is that browsers have already reached their limitations in terms of the World Wide Web, mainly because it has been so successfully co-opted by business. Serious research using the internet has become more and more difficult as the web has become more and more crowded with media stories, blogs, wikis and social networks. Needless to say, research on many subjects can now be done better at a traditional, but well stocked library rather than online. Whatever its stock price, Google simply does not offer as good a service as a well trained, experienced librarian. Rather than competing for a small fraction of the browser market, Google would do better to simply make a larger internet available to more people. In fact, some might say that as the planet’s default search engine, it is their obligation to make as much information available to as many people as possible. Thanks to it shareholder obligations, Google search remains more of an unimaginative Yellow Pages than a planetary library. Some have described it merely as ‘Craigs List on steroids’ but my own comparison would be that Google resembles a set of the literary criticism notes that are popular with students, while the actual texts of the reading lists remain in the Dark Web. Google has not bought forth the expected gigaflood of information that many had expected and hoped for. The contents of most libraries remain unavailable to internet search engines, as are most books, magazines and newspaper back catalogues. Seen as an assembler of information, Google is way behind other open-source projects such as Gutenberg and Wikipedia. Even though they introduced a very promising librarian type service called Google Answers, the scheme was quickly dropped causing an outry amongst its many adherents.

    5. Why go head to head with Mozilla, one of the most popular and admired companies on the Net? If Google really wanted to make a mark, then eBay would be a far better adversary. The online auction giant has been stagnating for years now, as users tire of incessant price increases, and recently acquired subsidiaries such as Paypal and Skype become public enemies in themselves. Online auctions were some of the fastest growth areas in the net’s history, and could easily be so again if Google had the vision to properly attack this project. Forget another browser and launch a peer-to-peer freebay auction site, with special attention paid to delivery networks, where prices have increased the most, and users will flee from Ebay like Michael Phelps escaping the Titanic.
    The author is currently in Asia researching material for an forthcoming paper entitled ‘The Exaflood and the New Rennaisance’ and can be should be contacted at his out-of-office email adress which is wenshidi at yahoo.co.uk

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