Google = Microsoft 2.0?

Sept. 3, 2008
Normally I welcome all the new, shiny web tools coming out of the Googleplex in Google-land (otherwise known as Mountain View, Calif.) After all, I run my small business on Google's mail client (gmail) and Google Docs & Spreadsheets, use Google AdWords ...

Normally I welcome all the new, shiny web tools coming out of the Googleplex in Google-land (otherwise known as Mountain View, Calif.)

After all, I run my small business on Google's mail client (gmail) and Google Docs & Spreadsheets, use Google AdWords to generate income, Google Reader for my news feeds (the raw material of a writer's life, delivered every morning just in time for my consumption), use Google Advanced Search for deep web research, Google's Blogger for random thoughts, and generally speaking interact with the big G in a hundred other ways on a daily basis.

Even with all of that, the announcement of the new Google product, a browser named Chrome, that surfaced unexpectedly yesterday has me depressed rather than energized.

Maybe it's because the normally pitch-perfect Google seems to have mishandled the product launch (isn't a major rollout on Labor Day against federal law, or something?), or maybe it's because I've spent so much time customizing my Firefox browser (if you don't know what I'm talking about, it's an open-source browser that is vastly superior to Internet Explorer, available for download here) but I am suffering from a notable lack of excitement, even when it concerns a completely new product category from my favorite application overlord.

Ironically, this conflicted feeling reminds me all too well of my recent experience with Windows Vista, where I loved it, then hated it, then loved it again (before I left it for good -- but isn't that every story of heartbreak in a nutshell?)

According to news reports, at least part of the market share expected from Google's Chrome browser will be cannibalized from Firefox, which Google had previously supported with both engineering and financial assistance. Supposedly the joint development partnership has been extended, but I can't see the kind of robust geek-osystem maintaining around Firefox with a brand-spanking new competitor from the resident, capital-G giant.

Here's what the Googlers have to say about their sleek, new roadster for the information superhighway:

So, let's say you've been driving around in the same old Chevy for years. It gets OK gas mileage, but it's not that fast. Now, someone has come out with a sleek hybrid that gets great mileage and it is agile on the road. That's how Google would like us to think about its new Internet browser in comparison with Internet Explorer.

The most recent data shows Internet Explorer with 72.2 percent of the browser market, while Firefox has (a heretofore steadily climbing) 19.7 percent. (Apple's Safari browser rounds it out with 6.4 percent.) Regardless of whether you believe the hype that Chrome is faster and more secure than its competition, the fact remains that a powerful new combatant has now entered the cage match known as the browser wars, and those numbers (especially IE and Firefox since Chrome is only being initially rolled out for Windows machines, and anyway Safari is somewhat insulated by Apple base installations) are liable to change in Google's favor.

I guess I just want to preserve the illusion of competition, which seems to be all that we are being left. And it really says something that these days, after all these years of bowing to Bill Gates' application hegemony, I'm tempted to root for Microsoft as the new underdog.

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