Why is Google Releasing a Browser?

Updated Analysis: Google, in a blog post on its web site has acknowledged the existence of Google Chrome, a browser that the company will be releasing tomorrow. Kara Swisher has confirmed the existence of Google Chrome, a browser developed by the Mountain View, Calif.-based search company. The rumors of the browser were reported earlier on Google Blogoscoped, which received a comic book that outlined the key features of the browser.

  • It is based on Webkit and will include Google Gears.
  • It has a browser extensions framework that will allow it to make Adobe AIR-type hybrid apps.
  • It includes Javascript Virtual Machine called V8 that was developed by a team in Denmark. It accelerates the Javascript performance and is multi-threaded.
  • It has tabs, auto-completion, and a dashboard-type start page that can help you get going to the web services you need. Opera has such a dashboard.
  • It has a privacy mode that allows you to use the machine without logging anything on the local machine. It might be similar to a feature called Incognito in the latest version of Microsoft IE.
  • Malware and phishing protection would be built into the browser.

The company released:

So why are we launching Google Chrome? Because we believe we can add value for users and, at the same time, help drive innovation on the web. All of us at Google spend much of our time working inside a browser. We search, chat, email and collaborate in a browser. And in our spare time, we shop, bank, read news and keep in touch with friends — all using a browser. Because we spend so much time online, we began seriously thinking about what kind of browser could exist if we started from scratch and built on the best elements out there.

We realized that the web had evolved from mainly simple text pages to rich, interactive applications and that we needed to completely rethink the browser. What we really needed was not just a browser, but also a modern platform for web pages and applications, and that’s what we set out to build. On the surface, we designed a browser window that is streamlined and simple. To most people, it isn’t the browser that matters. It’s only a tool to run the important stuff — the pages, sites and applications that make up the web. Like the classic Google homepage, Google Chrome is clean and fast. It gets out of your way and gets you where you want to go.

Google says the browser is going to be in open source.

We owe a great debt to many open source projects, and we’re committed to continuing on their path. We’ve used components from Apple’s WebKit and Mozilla’s Firefox, among others — and in that spirit, we are making all of our code open source as well. We hope to collaborate with the entire community to help drive the web forward.

The new browser is going to be released in beta for Windows first, and there will be Mac and Linux versions at a later stage. A source tells me this initiative prompted Apple to release Safari For Windows as a beta last year.

The question is: Why a browser? What does Google get from releasing a browser? There are going to be many theories around the Google Browser — that it is a direct challenge to Microsoft’s IE Browser, for example — but I think it might be more than just the desktop. Why? Because even today, despite strong competition from Mozilla’s Firefox, Microsoft controls about 75 percent of the desktop browser market. In other words, given Microsoft’s control of the desktop, it is hard to dislodge it on the desktop.

However, it is vulnerable on mobiles, where IE Mobile has a non-existent market share. Like Mozilla, Microsoft is playing catch-up with Webkit, the core rendering engine for Nokia S60 phones, Apple’s iPhone Safari and Google Android devices. Even a Windows Mobile version is in the works. (Read my Webkit report.) By developing a browser that offers a seamless experience on both mobile and desktop devices, Google can carve out a nice chunk of the browser market for itself. The big opportunity could be especially the emerging class of mobile devices like the Netbooks.

Most of the features mentioned in the comic book and Google’s blog post indicate that features such as faster JavaScript VM, better memory management, better Windows UI rendering, faster text layout and rendering and intelligent page navigation are all features that make absolute sense in a mobile browser. I wouldn’t be surprised that that many of these features end up back in the Android browser.

In recent months, there have been rumors that Android is going to work on more than just mobile phones. Given the light-weight footprint of these devices and Google Chrome’s focus on “web applications” it would make perfect sense for Google to chase this opportunity.

Mathew Ingram points out, “Google clearly sees the browser as a form of operating system — just as I think the Mozilla group.” I agree, and also I agree with John Furrier’s contention that browser-as-OS war is only beginning. What are your thoughts about this development?