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Google Chrome: Firefox Killer?

It's hardly surprising that Google's new Chrome browser would shake up the browser market and incite all sorts of hand-wringing and speculation about the impact Chrome might have on Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) browser. After all, Google's browser enjoys a level of immediate brand awareness and mindshare that the Mozilla Foundation, despite four years of hard labor on Firefox, must truly envy.

The funny thing is, Google's Chrome browser, at least in the short-term, is likely to impact IE the least of all the browser alternatives on the market. Peter O'Kelly, principal analyst for O'Kelly Consulting, said large swaths of Microsoft's market share, especially within organizations, are protected by the need for the browser to be compatible with existing business apps. And many of those were tuned specifically for IE.

"I think Chrome is going to cause bigger problems for others that are competitive with Microsoft than for Microsoft itself," O'Kelly said. "If I have a Mozilla or Opera tattoo, I'm pretty freaked out about this."

O'Kelly has a point. Google has long been Mozilla's largest contributor. In 2006, according to a New York Times article, 85 percent of Mozilla's $66 million in reported revenue came from Google. The cash is part of a search licensing deal that Google and Mozilla last month extended to run through 2011.

The way O'Kelly sees it, Google's decision to rush its browser into the wild ahead of IE 8 shows that the company isn't completely satisfied with what Mozilla has delivered.

"The biggest thing here is they are now putting their own vehicle for application deployment and user experience in the market," O'Kelly said. "They are taking direct control. It's a big grab, no question."

Certainly, Firefox and Chrome diverge in many key ways beyond the user interface. Firefox, for instance, employs the Gecko HTML renderer and SpiderMonkey JavaScript engine, while Chrome uses WebKit and the new V8 just-in-time JavaScript virtual machine. Still, both place a high priority on Web standards that should at least ensure consistent output and interoperability.

In fact, it's that shared vision that may ultimately damage Firefox, Opera and Apple Safari.

"I think there's a scenario for Google where if Chrome is successful it can actually help Microsoft by consolidating Firefox and Opera users," O'Kelly said. "That would be bad for Apple. That would be bad for That would be bad for Opera. But it is not a foregone conclusion for me that it would be bad for Microsoft."

What are your plans for Google Chrome? E-mail me at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 09/16/2008

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