Back in the days when Microsoft was an unabashed monopoly, the company’s strategy was “link and lever”–as in link new products to the Windows operating system and lever them into a dominant market position. Those who once used the market-leading Lotus 123, Notes, WordPerfect, and other programs will remember how effective this strategy was.
When Microsoft rolled out its first web browser, in 1995 (or thereabouts), it “linked and levered” again–by building Internet Explorer into Windows and soon rendering the then-dominant Netscape Navigator an also-ran. Of course, this particular linkage also got Microsoft in hot water with the Justice Department, and the resulting penalties and scrutiny essentially put an end to the “link and lever” strategy (and, with it, the fearsome seek-and-destroy intensity that Microsoft had employed since its earliest days).
Since the anti-trust trial, Microsoft has had to back down from anything resembling “link and lever,” including the minor search-window defaults it tried to include in the last version of Internet Explorer a couple of years back that sent Google scurrying to the Justice Department. And the company’s ability to lever IE’s dominance into meaningful online market share has been hobbled ever since.
All of which is extremely convenient for Google, as it now continues to employ “link and lever” itself by building the equivalent to Windows in the cloud-computing world (albeit starting with an application–search–instead of the operating system).
If you’re thinking about “Chrome” as just another web browser, you’re missing the larger point. Chrome will no doubt function just fine as a browser, giving you yet another icon choice to add to your browser collection alongside IE, Firefox, and Safari. It will also likely include some whizbang new features that force Microsoft and Mozilla to immediately retool their own offerings. But that’s almost beside the point.
In a couple of years, you won’t be downloading Google’s “browser.” You’ll be downloading “Google’s software” (or, rather, you’ll be clicking on a series of Google icons that come pre-installed). Specifically, you’ll be working within a Google software environment that works sort of like Windows that will include:
- Google Gears (offline and online apps, including email, messaging, chat, etc.)
- Google desktop search
- Google Earth
- Open source development platform
The software will be seamlessly integrated, and it will make Google’s (and other) online apps, games, etc. richer and simpler to use, especially if/when you’re offline. It will feature a Google search window (and, unlike Microsoft, Google won’t get in trouble when it sets the default to Google). It will be capable of running directly on any device without Windows. Unlike Windows, it will be free. And it will come pre-loaded–just like Windows–because who really wants to bother with downloading.
(Don’t think pre-loading is important? The reason Firefox still only has about 20% of the browser market is that, outside of the tech community, mainstream users can’t be bothered to download it. And they won’t download Google’s software, either, which is why Google will just pay PC makers–and Apple–to install it directly on the devices before they’re sold to customers.)
What will this software be? A device-side operating system that supports web applications, just the way Windows supports device-based apps. Just listen to Google’s description:
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 realised 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. (Full “comic” tour here)
Is this another torpedo aimed at Microsoft’s hold? You’d better believe it. If Google executes the strategy well, the major remaining advantage of Microsoft Office–rich desktop and device functionality–will eventually disappear, and Windows will become unnecessary. Not good news for Redmond.
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