Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Thanks, Google, but no thanks

Demonstrating its increasing ambition to compete in more markets traditionally dominated by Microsoft, Google this week confirmed that it is launching its own browser - Chrome - which will compete against Internet Explorer and Firefox:
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.
The question we have for Google is - why should we rely universally on your products and services as opposed to Microsoft's?

It is becoming increasingly apparent that Google is in pursuit of what Microsoft has today: domination on the desktop. Eric Schmidt and Company aren't content just to be the top search engine around. They want to be the provider of choice for webmail, calendar, documents, syndicated ads, feed reading, computer search, user-submitted video, blogging, the mobile phone experience... and so much more.

Recently Google launched Knol, "a project which aims to include user-written articles on a range of topics". Gee, that sounds like Wikipedia!

And now...along comes Chrome, perhaps Google's most aggressive and ambitious attempt to wrest market share from its partners and competitors.

We have to ask - what exactly is Google's aim in taking Microsoft, Apple, and others on in so many different markets so rapidly?

And what's next? Is Google going to make the leap into hardware? Compete with and become an online retailer? Google is at risk of overextending itself by moving so far away from its core business of search.

It's a problem that has plagued Microsoft, which has struggled to keep its products up to date in recent years and lost market share in the process.

It used to be that Microsoft focused mainly on operating systems.

Then the company started branching out like crazy: office productivity software, dialup Internet service, webmail, online search, mobile phones, gaming and gaming consoles, digital music players. That's not even close to a complete list.

And of course there was the company's attack on Netscape in the 1990s (Netscape Navigator would eventually be reborn as Mozilla Firefox years later).

Just as we don't like the idea of Microsoft exerting unchallenged domination over the software industry, we don't like the idea of Google becoming the next Microsoft. No one company should have that kind of control in the marketplace.

The Guardian's Jack Schofield wonders if there's even anything original in Google's browser, which is receiving a lot of hype and attention:
Google can't even think up a new name: Microsoft Chrome was an old tool that allowed "Web developers to add multimedia features to HTML using Microsoft's DirectX technology".
Paul Thurott concludes:
[W]hat we've really got here is an example of Google pulling a Microsoft: Creating an unnecessary me-too product that they can use for product tie-ins. All of the features here are present in existing browsers, all of them. So what does Google really bring to the table? Not much, it seems.
And as for Chrome itself...having tried it, I can definitely say I'm not impressed. Chrome took plenty of time to install as it repeatedly butted heads with Kasperksy Internet Security, wanting access to registry key after registry key.

And based on the security prompts, it seems to me that Chrome is a bit too invasive for a company whose motto is supposedly "do no evil".

The interface is cute, but I prefer how Firefox has things laid out. Firefox is also more customizable. And I found Google's claims about speed to be totally overblown: web pages did not load more speedily than other browsers. In fact, it was the other way around. Firefox served up web pages more quickly than Chrome.

With extensions like CookieSafe and NoScript, Firefox is also much safer than Chrome, Safari, Opera, or Internet Explorer.

The genius of both extensions is that they allow a user to change security settings easily on a site-by-site basis. Adding a site to the whitelist, or "trusted" category automatically reloads the site with cookies and Javascript allowed.

Compatibility wise, Google Chrome is solid. All the AJAX and Javascript applications I tested worked fine. And Google Chrome allows you to change the default search engine to something else if you want (Windows Live, Yahoo Search, Ask, or AOL, which uses Google, are the other choices included by default).

What Chrome simply isn't is superior to Firefox. In my view, the folks at Mozilla have the best browser on the market today.

Firefox is stable, compact, and clean. It's easy to make your own, with thousands of add-ons (themes, extensions, and plugins) available for download. It performs well under heavy constraints (lots of tabs open). And it is better supported, thanks in part to broad, collaborative development.

A final note...I use Firefox, and in particular, the extensions I mentioned to protect my privacy, exposure to malware, and downloading of unwanted ads. Chrome, on the other hand, may itself be packaged with ads in the future:
17. Advertisements

17.1 Some of the Services are supported by advertising revenue and may display advertisements and promotions. These advertisements may be targeted to the content of information stored on the Services, queries made through the Services or other information.

17.2 The manner, mode and extent of advertising by Google on the Services are subject to change without specific notice to you.

17.3 In consideration for Google granting you access to and use of the Services, you agree that Google may place such advertising on the Services.
That's an excerpt from the Chrome Terms of Service.

So thanks, Google - but no thanks. I'm going to stick with the best. Mozilla Firefox is effective, fast, safe, usable, and under constant improvement. Best of all, it isn't a product owned by a company named Microsoft or Google.


Blogger Ken Camp said...

Amen Andrew. It shouldn't be about market domination. It should be about putting out a quality product that serves the needs of your customers. Firefox is the best product out there and that's why I use it.

September 2, 2008 7:26 PM  
Blogger nousplacidus said...

I'm not sure that Firefox should be categorized as "Compact" but I think you have a valid point in wondering why Google would come out with a browser.

I see it as less of a "Me too" and more of an attempt to move web apps along as they are stagnating right now with little browser side innovation going on. From a development standpoint, especially web developement, this could be a great way to get new technology out in their own AND to other browsers (the whole code base is available for use).

Even if millions of people don't use it, any advancement this causes will be good news for Google and web apps everywhere.

September 2, 2008 9:08 PM  
Blogger Chad Lupkes said...

There's nothing wrong with trying new things. I'm on the new Chrome right now, and it works pretty well. I don't have an objection to a lot of what Google is doing, although I agree with your concerns, Andrew. They shouldn't over extend themselves too far. I think the difference is that they're focused much more on open source, putting things in the hands of the developer community to get ideas and help them with the coding. I know this might rankle some people, but I get the impression that Google is different from Microsoft. They're not looking to wrest market share, at least not at the core of their goals. I think they're just exploring the limits of technology and pushing at those limits. Software development is a very mature science right now. It's a good thing to shake things up now and again.

September 3, 2008 6:09 AM  

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