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Google Puts a Shine to 'Chrome'

Never mind that chrome is typically the stuff that gets dented on older car bumpers, Google thinks Chrome will be the answer to Microsoft's browser dominance on the net.

Google Headquarters
AP
Google Headquarters

Google will release its entry into the browser market later today after four years of rumors and two years of product development. For its part, Google says Chrome will work better than Microsoft's Explorer, it'll offer tabs, and thumbnail previews, the ability to open multiple windows, and if one crashes, it won't take out the other open windows with it. It all sounds good. Some of the developments seem cool; many seem incremental. Taken all together though, a browser from Google -- unlike the company's forays into word-processing and spreadsheets -- offer what could be the most direct challenge yet to Microsoft's dominance.

And unlike Search, this is the segment of the net that Microsoft dominates: Browser. Internet Explorer owns 75 percent of the market. Trouble for Microsoft is that, unlike Search advertising, browsers don't tend to generate any real revenue or profits. It's a great thing to dominate. It's just that no one has really figured out a way to make money from it. That's not to say Microsoft, or even Google, won't, but in the net world, Google owns the market that makes money. Microsoft owns the other part.

Can Google expect to steal any share from Microsoft? That's the bigger question. And I'm not sure the company can. I say that because I have yet to see any money-making initiatives from Google, above and beyond Search, that have been successful for the company. It spent huge money on YouTube and DoubleClick, but the jury's still out on the mobile operating system Android, and no one has been able to show me the ways this company can organically come up with new ways, outside of its core business, to generate new money.

That could be a problem for Google. Just by merely entering the browser market with Chrome doesn't automatically guarantee success for Google, in much the same way that Microsoft and Yahoo have tried to wrest share from Google in Search and haven't enjoyed any success. Microsoft owns the browser world, just as Google owns Search. And with net surfers so often being creatures of habit, it's not clear that Google can offer anything compelling enough for people to make a switch. That doesn't mean that Google shouldn't try; but for investors drooling at the "browser battle" that'll grab headlines, I'm not sure there's a lot of "there" there. At least not yet.

Far more interesting to me is Google's delay in getting a Mac compatible version of Chrome out the door. I mean, Chrome launches in 100 countries today, and there's not an Apple-friendly version? Seems odd, considering the Mac's marketplace momentum right now, and that Google CEO Eric Schmidt sits on Apple's board. Which makes me wonder whether the decision was a conscious one. Consider that Google's mobile Android operating system should be released in a few weeks, and new handsets running it will be in direction competition with Apple's iPhone. Will the Google Chrome browser also run on the iPhone? Or has a decision been made not to go that way? Is there a rift growing here? Schmidt has always said that Google never wants to pick sides, that it wants its software on as many devices and platforms as it possibly can. Which makes me wonder whether Apple and Google might not be getting along all that well right now. I don't know, but it's certainly some action away from the ball worth watching.

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Meantime, I'll give Chrome a try, and hope that Microsoft's new Vista doesn't do anything to make my Google browsing experience a lousy one. Funny how a company Google's size can still be such an underdog, and why Microsoft, missteps and all, still wields a huge amount of power. On the desktop. And yes, even online.

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