Wednesday, July 08, 2009
Wow. A Google Operating System. We all knew it was coming, but it still feels weird to talk about it. It's a major departure from Google's humble roots... but it's a departure that left the station years ago, of course. Where better to read about it first than from Danny at Search Engine Land, though (wait for it) the very first mention of today's news item that I ran across happened to be by a fashion and entertainment reporter I happen to follow on Twitter. Hmmm.
The #1 browser in the market, IE, has long been buttressed by its integration with the world's #1 selling computer operating system. The ever-stronger #2 browser, Firefox, is not similarly blessed, making its rise even more impressive. The #3 browser, Safari, also has tight OS integration as its main beneficiary.
Google's browser, Chrome, is still languishing in fourth spot with 2-3% market share. I predicted they'd reach 7.5% share at least by 2010, and no more than 16%. Their chances of reaching 7.5% increase significantly if netbooks are sold containing the Chrome OS, but there's still a long ways to go. Inertia rules.
One open question facing all of this is: what's the business model with a free OS? Most of Google's lines of business outside of the ad-supported media continue to be cost centers. As the company grows, its profit margins continue to shrink. But perhaps taking over the world -- to say nothing of releasing cheaper, better software -- is more interesting than fat margins.
First dismissive mention of a potential Google OS on Traffick: November, 2003.
Labels: google chrome, google os
Friday, May 22, 2009
Can declarations by tech celebrities (the technorati, as it were) start a snowball effect that impact the usage patterns of regular people? It doesn't always happen, but such sentiments can galvanize the crowd in certain cases, especially when attached to widely shared sentiments of fairness, transparency, and equity that have given rise to significant shifts in the locus of high tech power in recent years (such as, no less, the Open Source movement).
In other cases, falling well short of embracing open source models, consumers become more open to a second-place private-enterprise power because they see it as, at least, an "alternative." In the search space, that's why so many have continued to hope that Yahoo! stays solidly on the map.
Gina Trapani, the influential founding editor of Lifehacker, one of the most popular blogs around, says she's dumping Google search in favor of Yahoo! search. While this isn't exactly the equivalent of Jay-Z dropping Cristal and throwing his support to Dom Perignon, it may well be the start of a trend.
Before going down that road, it's worth noting that various pundits have previously predicted Google backlashes before, in 2007 and even 2003, and it seems to be a recurring theme every few years. Who knows, maybe we'll be saying the same thing two years henceforth in 2011.
But this time it feels a bit different.
As Google's supremacy over its rivals has quickened and as the Big G has begun intruding more aggressively on others' turf, concern over a potential Google monopoly is growing in many corners. This has caused many people to step back and ponder the consequences of an ascendant Google.
Recently, Ralph Tegtmeier (aka fantomaster aka the Dark Lord Voldemort of Cloaking) wrote a compelling piece comparing Google's burgeoning hegemony to the Kraken. Andrew and I debated it internally for quite a while, trying to decide whether concerns over Google are about to cross over from conspiracy theory territory into full "Google is actually becoming evil" land. Even the most forgiving of Google fans would have second thoughts of entrusting so much personal data to one company after reading fantomaster's take.
This unease with putting too many eggs in one basket is part of the reason why I've decided not to use Google Chrome as my primary browser, even after Chrome gets full extension capability similar to Firefox, which many people predict will lead to a mass abandonment of Firefox for Chrome. For similar reasons, I've also uninstalled the Google Toolbar from Firefox now that many Toolbar features are available inside the browser (I didn't really use the Toolbar much anyway). There's just too much data being beamed back home to Mountain View than seems necessary.
We've seen this sentiment repeated in other ways.
One of our clients at Page Zero opted not to install Google's Sitemap Generator due to data privacy sensitivity, despite the fact that they happily fork over their site activity to Google through Google Analytics. Their belief was that GSG acts as a network "switch" of sorts, with all server requests coming and going through GSG, and believed this would give away far too much sensitive information.
Search Engine Land has been chronicling the various anti-trust concerns associated with Google lately, concerns that seem to be proliferating more every week. For its part, Google is proactively attempting to blunt the momentum of this movement with their recent "charm offensive." Whether they succeed in fending off anti-trust actions in the future remains to be seen.
One thing seems certain. Just as the U.S. government's inquiries into Microsoft's business practices in the late '90s gave organizations like Red Hat and Firefox a vital opening, something similar is bound to happen with Google if it gets too big for its britches.
Could the main beneficiary of this be an old-timer like Yahoo?
It's conceivable that some shrewd moves by Yahoo! could lead to a reversal of Yahoo's declining search market share, and perhaps a resurgence to something on the order of 25% search share in the next few years.
Recall that Google's search distribution deal with Firefox expires in November 2011. It's a safe assumption that Google won't renew it due to their increasing support of Google Chrome. Or another way to look at it is, with Firefox's market share hovering around 20%, and perhaps headed to over 30%, Firefox might feel emboldened to be the one dictating terms. Regardless, Google must be a bit worried about Chrome's meager market share, as they've begun running TV ads for Chrome, a first for Google.
Mozilla could soon be in a position to be a quasi-king maker. They're independent-minded and, having emerged as a credible alternative to Internet Explorer even among mainstream users, they seem to be on a mission of sorts. If they decide to place a crown on Yahoo's proverbial head, things could get very interesting. Maybe we'll once again see a more diverse search landscape sooner than we think.
By the way, it's worth noting that last year Yahoo acquired the popular search-based extension Inquisitor, which I find myself using on a regular basis these days. It's a fine tool that I highly recommend to every FF user. Oh, and guess which search engine is set as the default? Yep, Yahoo.
Ultimately, I'm all for personalization and targeted advertising, and I don't really have a beef with Google knowing a lot of information about me. But there comes a point when too much is enough. When I realized just how much I rely on Google's services, it hit me like a slap in the face from Moe the bartender. Like Gina Trapani, I think there's nothing wrong at all with spreading the love around.
Labels: antitrust, firefox, google, google chrome, lifehacker, yahoo
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
Of all the responses to the Chrome announcement, three stood out for me.
1. The most obvious approach is to download it and try it, as I've just done. If you like it, predict world domination for Chrome! The thing is lightning fast, and bound to improve. So the commenter on the previous post, Mark, makes a compelling case when he argues: "...while my [Twitter] friends are hardly a representative sample of anything other than agency technogeeks, so far they are blown away with Chrome's speed. Having found Firefox agonizingly slow lately, I would be wary about making negative assumptions about its [Chrome's] popularity." To me personally, this is a compelling argument. I've only been using Chrome for ten minutes, and already I feel some reluctance towards returning to plodding with Firefox. But the question remains, does this matter in terms of market share.
2. So as a reality check, we have the "it's all pie in the sky" position that reminds us that this creates further chaos in the marketplace but may not be a widely adopted solution. This is Hank Williams' "IE 6 still has 25% share
" argument. Inertia is enormous, goes this argument. So Chrome won't pick up share from incumbents, is the logical extension of this argument.
3. An intriguing third possibility opens. Now I am with Hank that the mad dash for Chrome is only going to add up to so many users, at the end of the day. I think many of us early adopters have sort of had our fill of wheedling folks to switch: from Hotmail to GMail, from IE to Firefox, from AOL to anything but, etc. A little voice inside us says: hey, let them surf more slowly. Let their system crash. I'm tired of being the advocate for things that are obviously better (to me). You can lead a horse to water... until even the effort of leading gets too onerous. But what if those horses, sticking with their incumbent browser, could get most of the benefit of Chrome anyway, because new versions will incorporate Chrome's best open-source code elements? That's sort of Dana Blankenhorn's take
. Other browsers will use the code, and get better, too. For this scenario to play out in a way that keeps Firefox's share where it is, though, Firefox will need to release a Chromey version 4 in fairly short order, or risk bleeding users over to Chrome. Meanwhile, it is hard to imagine that Microsoft would make major changes to IE to make it suck less in a meaningful way, especially not adopting Google's code elements. So the potential scenario is in place where the performance gap between IE and all other browsers in the marketplace becomes so significant that most of the inertia, non-power-users see the gap and switch out of IE. Are inertia products like Hotmail and IE really just going to hang onto share forever if the gap in functionality is so wide? Hmm, probably for a fairly long time for anyone over the age of 50 (or with a stick-in-the-mud mindset). What we have is the real prospect of a divided user base -- half the world using stuff that sucks, the other half using something that's obviously faster, better, and less error prone. Inertia is indeed that powerful. Luckily for some of the inertia people, all browsers stand to improve based on the new thinking Google has brought to bear on the browser market.
Conclusion: no dominant browser will emerge, and Microsoft's share won't plummet to 20%. But the part of the world that is eventually willing to actively switch to a significantly better product is now closer to half (let's call it 25-30% of the app-using public) -- it's not going to remain an obscure "preserve of the tech elite". And I think that also goes for products like GMail. Their growth is not done yet, and the fact that Google can continue to cross-promote its products gives all of them many second chances for market share gains. So, I'll stick with my second prediction -- that Chrome will reach 7.5% to 16% market share by 2010 -- not higher mainly because I think that improvements in Firefox and Safari will be enough to satisfy those users.
More nuanced viewpoints on Chrome also point to integration with Android and mobile browsing. No doubt a very important point in its own right. But if we're all going to spend all our time browsing on a smart phone, what are we going to do with all of these 23" monitors on our desks?
Labels: google chrome
Monday, September 01, 2008
Now that news has leaked that Google is set to release a browser, time to ask the business question: what market share will Google Chrome top out at over the next 2-3 years?
Firefox has been surprisingly robust, but it took a long time to get to the 10-15% share area. That said, that growth would have been inexorable in my opinion. It's at 40% - equal to or ahead of IE - for some websites I see analytics data for. The cool (and not-Microsoft) factor was bound to keep spreading.
That said, Safari still doesn't have huge share, but arguably it might keep adding.
So will a new browser actually get adopted? My gut reaction was to say no. It's a tough fight to get people to switch. But then I saw some of the promises being made - such as shielding tabs from one another to prevent rogue applications from crashing the browser, and a variety of performance improvements that we can only assume Google can deliver on, and it seems like the product will just flat out sell itself.
That said: I am no fan of change when it comes to browsers, and for most of the population that aversion to changing platforms is times ten. I am also no fan of big monopolies - but of course that is why so many of us felt relief that Firefox had momentum, so we wouldn't have to use Microsoft's product.
Either Chrome will wind up like GMail -- eventually rising to 15% market share even though everyone *you* know seems to use it -- or it will surprise everyone and go up to about double that, as people defect from both IE and Firefox in favor of a much improved experience (fighting inertia and anti-Google paranoia in the process).
Here's the call, then: by this time in 2010 I am guessing Chrome's browser market share in the US will be above 15% but no higher than 32%. This assumes that Microsoft, Google, and Apple are all about equally savvy about the various carrots, tie-ins, and inducements they can use to increase browser market share, which I think is the case.
Will I use it? Probably yes, for the same reasons I switched to GMail after initial skepticism. If it makes the experience that much better, faster, and less error-prone, then that is the bottom line for me.
Labels: google chrome
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