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Google Chrome: Where’s the Strategy?

Posted by Bob Warfield on September 2, 2008

Buy now everyone will have heard that Google is releasing yet another browser.  The overwhelming majority of folks I talk to offline registered a collectively negative sigh at the news.  Developers see it as one more potentially incompatible browser to be tested.  Pundits I talk to see it as more tilting at windmills that may or may not result in any net motion forward.  In general, the reaction is simply that the world didn’t need another browser.

Online, the news is not too different.  Dennis Howlett ruminates that another protracted Google beta product is irrelevant for business, which can’t adopt beta software anyway due to SOX compliance and other governance and risk aversion issues.  The money quote is:

Despite their mantra of ‘release early and iterate‘ Google doesn’t live up to its own words except in fits and starts.

Dennis is not alone, at least among the Enterprise Irregulars.  Larry Dignan sums it up thus:

the consensus seems to be that Google will make a splash for two months or so and then developers will see what the catch is with Chrome. From there we’ll find out if Google’s Chrome browser is worth much.

There are some in the opposite camp.  This camp says that there is a method to the madness, and that Chrome is not simply “Yet Another Browser We Didn’t Need.”  Nicholas Carr (natch!) has said:

(Google) knows that its future, both as a business and as an idea (and Google’s always been both), hinges on the continued rapid expansion of the usefulness of the Internet, which in turn hinges on the continued rapid expansion of the capabilities of web apps, which in turn hinges on rapid improvements in the workings of web browsers.

In essence, Google must build a browser in order to realize a full vision of Cloud Computing.  On this, Nicholas is right, and Fred Wilson is also tracking closely.  The pace of browser development as an application platform has been glacial.  And yet, I am reminded that platforms that change too rapidly are not stable foundations.  Typically it is not the role of the platform to change radically, except perhaps in its first incarnation.

I came across another interesting, if somewhat sinister, write up in the Cap Gemini blog.  Recall that these folks have been partnered with Google in attempting to get Google Apps into the Enterprise.  The post, titled “World Domination is Near“, talks about the incredible amount of information Google already collects about what you and I are doing online.  Owning the browser completes that picture in an seamless way because it gives Google visibility right at the source.

For myself, I hunger for a Google strategy.  It has seemed like Google dabbles in just about everything remotely related to the web, but that they are almost never deeply successful at it.  They certainly release early, but the iterations are very slow and the evolution seems minimal.

I’m not surprised they’re adding a browser to the list, but I am not impressed either.  Strategy is essential for all organizations.  My favorite definition of the word is that Strategy makes winning easy.  How does a new browser make winning easy for Google?  How do most of the web products Google has rolled out make winning easy? 

Google is a company that in some ways has not had to think about strategy.  Their dual search and advertising franchises have powered unlimited growth and the opportunities to dabble that go along with that.  But they’re nearing the limits of the envelope.  They’re regressing to grow at the mean market growth of those areas, which is a lot slower growth than they’re used to.  Inevitably Wall Street follows up slowing growth with tremendous profitability pressure which they seem ill-equipped to address.

What could real strategy mean to Google?  Microsoft had real strategy in its critical formative years from Bill Gates and used it to parlay one monopoly into several.  But how about an easier to grasp example.  Jack Welch insisted General Electric only focus on markets where it could be #1 or #2.  Look at the plethora of Google offerings.  How many are #1 or #2?  Does their new browser have a shot in our lifetime (hey, I’m older!) of being #1 or #2?

Where’s the strategy behind it all? Yes, we can put together some kooky notion of how anything Google is doing leads to world domination. But is Google really just, “a freak of a company, the best advertising business ever built is funding the largest collection of mad scientists ever assembled?” 

Or is there a deep strategy we just haven’t groked yet?

5 Responses to “Google Chrome: Where’s the Strategy?”

  1. andyfinkle said

    Chrome will mean different things depending on who/what you are. The one thing it does mean to everyone though is that the Internet is the operating system, and the clouds are moving closer to earh.

    You are Apple;

    This means that if it were not enough of a conflict of interest (Iphone VS Google’s Android) to have Google CEO Eric Schmidt sit on your board – It is now. Look for Schmidt to resign sometime in the next six months.

    If you are Microsoft;

    This means that if you ever considered making Internet Explorer open source in the past, now is the time… You can not afford to wait, not even another minute. Expect Microsoft to make Vaporware like noise over the next few months about cloud widgets to give IE closer ties to cloud based initiatives.

    If you are Yahoo;

    you need to buy Mozilla.

    If you are Firefox;

    Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer…yes continue with your Google revenue deal, but learn how to monetize your Browser outside of a paid search deal. Leverage your large user base to form “spin-off” type “power of the crowd” businesses. Note to Firefox, hey you guys ARE a social network…you just haven’t figured that out yet.

    If you are Sun;

    Realize that Java is even less relevant every day. First we kicked you out of client side computing because you were a resource hog. Realize that Java will now continue to be less and less relevant on the Server. What a waste of a good company… McNealy must have got hit in the head with one to many hockey pucks.

    If you are a social network;

    “social networks” would follow along with users in the browser. Truth be told, we thought it would be Facebook, or even more likely Firefox that would lead in this initiative. So if you are a social network, you need to know now Chrome is the first step in a series of moves that will make it unnecessary for your peeeps to ever visit your site (directly) again.

    If you are an application developer;

    Life used to be simple, eh? You knew that you should be developing applications for Windows, because that is where the 100’s of millions of users were. Fast forward, and now you need to choose what platforms to support, and when. Of course it makes sense to develop for Windows still, but Apple now has a mass of millions of Mac OSx users, and if it a browser based app, write once for Safari, and it should work without much adaptation on the Iphone. There are over a billion cell phones in use world wide, however every phone requires writing to separately (yes even all those different flavors of Java are different phone to phone. Suddenly with Android coming, and a matching desktop browser you need to be here.

    Lastly if you are a consumer;

    There is always a bottleneck somewhere … Think back 5-10 years ago, before what we now refer to broadband… Dial up was painffulllllyy slow, and when you tried to browse, the bottleneck was in your “last mile” connectivity. Once you got broadband, the lag time in reaching a site was likely in your PC (not enough ram, slow processor, etc). Before either of those issues though it was the software that was not “smart” enough to keep up with the ever faster CPU’s being created.

    Look for Chrome to optimize all these new “cloud” based application initiatives like Google Gears, etc. This is just another nail in the coffin for desktop based computing. In 10 years, likely 90%+ of your applications will reside somewhere outside of your home or workplace – but certainly not on your desktop.

  2. smoothspan said

    Andy, awesome post. You type fast!

    “In 10 years, likley 90%+ of your applications will reside somewhere outside of your home or workplace.”

    I think that’s already true, we’re just not awarding “application” status to a lot of what we do on the web, or we lump it all in as one thing.

    Not sure Harry Debes agrees, though, LOL.



  3. […] pronouncements from a variety of folks, and tossed in some of his own for good measure. Read about them on Bob’s blog… and make up your own mind. Even better: once the software is available, […]

  4. […] a more in depth analysis link here – as usual Bob sums it up […]

  5. Andy is on point here, it’s the next wave, application based browsers and the strategy, to fly under the radar much like Microsoft did in the 80’s and become the leader in software innovation. I too had hoped Facebook was going to get here first, with the virtual cubicle of social networking and an application browser that was relevant to all things social.

    Have you used it yet? I downloaded it today and it took about 2 minutes to download and it works! On one hand it’s all about its searching capability and on the other its all about the web based SaaS application.

    You could almost imagine the commercial with the apple guy, Bill Gates look a like, and a google(the google logo of the day)…

    So is this just another browser or is there a future in google browsing? As many of you might remember in some of my early posts on linkedin and on my blog,, the real next waves in computing will be the browser or the evolution of the browser. The notion of a desktop or operating system is changing or evolving into a browser, an application browser. As SaaS applications begin to build a larger footprint, users will want more functionality and they will want that functionality richness to enhance their user experience without system degragation. Just like the SaaS apps that work in a multitenant hosted enviroment, leaving the heavy lifting to the hosted environement, application browsers will forge the way in new computing methods.

    The real challenge today is to see what developers can do with this new application browser and see how they can enhance their current apps with google chrome(not loving the name).

    What if you could turn your computer on and connect to Google without ever loading windows… (wouldn’t that be great!)

    So what do I already miss, spell check! Firefox was great at spell checking and I already miss that basic functionality. Next on my list is my Google toolbar, with the new tab feature, I guess I may not need a traditional bookmark / favorites / toolbar because google chrome incorporates some of that basic functionality out of the box. My home page is Google, now I can just type what I am looking for in the browser line and if its a website, it will go to it and if its something I am seraching for, it will search and send me my results. Nice…

    It’s not just another browser, it’s an application browser and it’s the tipping point for all things SaaS.

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