Ever since Google released its new browser, “Chrome” last week, it has been the subject of hot debate. People are arguing whether the world needs another browser, whether this new browser is any good, and whether or not this is really innovation. A very interesting post by Scott Anthony on his blog takes the position that Chrome shows signs of classic disruption: easier and faster to run web apps, open source, and free. Anthony makes the argument that Chrome is a disruptive threat not just to Microsoft’s now-dominant browser, Internet Explorer, but even to Microsoft’s other flaghsip products – Office and Windows.
This is much more serious statement than many realize. For some time a lot of people have been predicting that the web browser will supplant the traditional Operating System as the layer for which most applications will ultimately be designed. We now see that this vision has the very real potential of becoming reality. Companies such as Salesforce.com and many others have shown that industrial-strength applications can run in web browsers, and Google’s own applications which compete with Microsoft’s Office suite offer a tantalizing taste of what is to come.
But the browser itself has long been the limiting factor. Among the biggest problems with the current crop of browsers are their poor memory and process management. Sophisticated web apps can choke a browser, and the problems get worse when there are multiple windows and tabs open. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer which is used by 70% of the market has been particularly slow to evolve in this dimension and seems to have been spurred-on mostly by the competition – particularly Firefox. There is little doubt that IE wouldn’t have moved very far without the Firefox threat looming.
I think a lot of people have missed the point with Chrome. Google doesn’t really want to compete in the browser market. I believe that their intention is to move browser technology in the direction it wants to go – toward making browsers a more robust application platform. This is the reason that I would argue Chrome will ultimately turn out to be disruptive even if it never consolidates any substantial market share. Many have argued that Chrome’s new features will not be difficult for the market leaders such as IE and Firefox to adopt and that will obviate any demand for Chrome. I think that this is exactly what Google wants. They are lighting a fire under the IE development team. They may or may not want to be the new king of the browser hill – but they certainly want browsers to be capable of delivering the new generation of applications and services that they envision.
That’s why Chrome is not as disruptive of other browsers as it is of traditional software applications like Office and operating systems such as Windows and Macintosh OSX. When the browser becomes the platform of choice for application delivery, we will be able to get our software over the web, and the operating system I use (currently: Macintosh OSX by the way), will recede into the background. In fact, if I am getting my apps over the web, why should I pay a premium for a commercial OS at all when there are free alternatives that support a modern browser just fine. Chrome is disruptive without specifically needing to disrupt any particular product directly. This is because it is going to change the balance of power between traditional computing platforms and the web-based computing juggernaut on the horizon. I think Chrome will prove disruptive whether anyone uses it or not.