Google Web browser Chrome targets Web-based applications, Microsoft

With Chrome, Google has reignited the browser wars and upped the ante in its battle with Microsoft. But partners are split on how successful Google will be.

Google Chrome, the new Google Web browser, is getting a lot of attention for reigniting the browser wars. But it's another battle -- Microsoft vs. Google -- that could really feel the effects.

Early proponents, including some Google partners, see Chrome not just as a Web browser but as a platform designed to boost the performance and capabilities -- not to mention sales -- of Web-based applications, particularly Google Apps, the online Microsoft Office competitor.

"Google has taken a huge step towards making a Web-based operating system," said Tony Safoian, president and CEO of SADA Systems, a Google solutions provider in North Hollywood, Calif. "The better that they can make Web-based applications function, including Google Apps, the better it is for them."

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Microsoft, the on-premise software giant, has made online services a top priority this year -- although its own market-leading Web browser, Internet Explorer, has not factored into that conversation much at all. Some Microsoft partners said they don't think Google Chrome will significantly change the dynamics of Microsoft vs. Google.

"What's the point?" asked Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies in Fairfax, Va. "Part of me just sort of says, 'Ho-hum, a browser.' … Clearly Google is backing the Web app, Software as a Service delivery model. Maybe they feel they just need to have their own version of everything."

News of the Google Web browser leaked this holiday weekend, when Google prematurely sent out a promotional comic book featuring the as-yet-unannounced browser. Google officially announced Chrome on Monday and made it available for free download Tuesday.

Google Chrome features tabbed browsing, the ability to conduct Google searches from within the address bar and a "most visited" page that provides screen shots and links to each user's most-frequented sites. Most of Chrome's visible features are available in IE or Mozilla Firefox, the No. 2 browser on the market, but Google promises that "under the hood, we were able to build the foundation of a browser that runs today's complex Web applications much better."

Ed Laczynski, chief technology officer of LTech Consulting, a Google partner in Tinton Falls, N.J., said the Google Web browser will attract more users to Google Apps. Chrome also bolsters Google's overall portfolio, which includes its market-leading search and advertising business, as well as Google Gears and its Android mobile operating system, Laczynski said.

"Microsoft has a lot of work to do to be considered a serious player in online services, and this isn't going to help," he added.

LTech Consulting customers that are considering Google Apps often question Google's commitment to Web-based applications. Building a Web browser to support Google Apps and other programs shows the company's commitment, Laczynski said.

"Other than search, Apps has been their main focus," he said. "This helps us push it."

Expert Bernard Golden, CEO of Navica in San Carlos, Calif., agreed that Chrome could help tip the scales in the Microsoft vs. Google fight.

If the Google Web browser makes Web-based applications richer, "that would give you more reasons to use the browser and use the applications," he said. "Obviously [Microsoft has] got to be concerned that Google is giving away something that is going to favor Google Apps over anything they've got."

But Michael Cocanower, CEO of Microsoft partner itSynergy in Phoenix, doesn't think a Web browser alone can entice users to a new productivity application suite.

"Google Apps has been around for a while," he said. "The people who are going to switch are going to switch. I don't know what a browser is going to do to affect that."

Cocanower acknowledged that could change if Google Chrome becomes the dominant Web browser on the market, but he said that won't happen overnight.

"It's very early on," he said. "They've got a huge hurdle to overcome. … That is a multi-year battle right there."

Partners on both sides of the Microsoft vs. Google fight do agree, though, that Microsoft is vulnerable in the browser wars. Firefox's market share is approaching 20%, and the Google Web browser has stolen some of the thunder from Microsoft, which just released Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2.

"Firefox has been taking huge chunks out of [Microsoft's] market share, and I'm just wondering what the market share is going to look like six months from now," Safoian said. "Nobody saw this coming, so it's a huge boon for Google."

"You really wonder about [Internet Explorer's dominance]," Sobel said. "Microsoft has clearly lost their luster on a lot of these things."

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