Google Chrome: The Fast Browser With Slow Adoption
The launch of Google's Chrome browser a little over a year ago brought with it a mountain of hype and expectations, with some suggesting it could be as instantly disruptive and beneficial as Gmail was to the webmail market.
After all, here was Google opening another front against Microsoft with a big and bold move, and also turning into a competitor to its close partner Mozilla, maker of Firefox, the darling browser of techies worldwide.
Positioning itself as a reluctant entrant to the market, Google stated dramatically that it had no other choice given its deep dissatisfaction with existing browsers, specifically with their speed and performance running Web applications.
This browser wasn't a side project, Google said, but rather a serious endeavor with far-reaching implications for the future of its online services and applications.
It was an epic move: the mighty Google, like Achilles, marching into battle. The problem is, Chrome hasn't precisely turned things around as the mythical hero did, mercilessly and unequivocally, on behalf of the Greeks against the Trojans.
With a modest market share of about 4 percent, Chrome, which was launched on Sept. 1 last year, hasn't yet come close to approaching market leader Internet Explorer, nor the second-most-popular browser, Firefox.
"To date, Chrome really hasn't had the success that I suspect Google had anticipated for it," said Sheri McLeish, a Forrester analyst.
As it turns out, Chrome has more than a few Achilles heels.
For starters, it doesn't exist for Mac OS and Linux users, two camps full of technology enthusiasts and early adopters. The Mac OS and Linux versions are delayed. To make matters worse, the doors of most workplaces, particularly large enterprises, remain closed to Chrome because it lacks basic features that IT departments need.
While Google will remedy these two issues at some point, there are other obstacles to Chrome's adoption that may be harder to fix.
One is the widespread ignorance among many consumers about browsers, and their tendency to default to the one that comes with their PC. Another issue goes back to a question asked repeatedly at Chrome's launch: Does the world need another browser? Or put another way: Does Chrome offer enough of an improvement to justify switching to it?
Google certainly didn't help Chrome's chances to sprint out of the gate by releasing it as a beta product that was quite rough around the edges. Not only was Chrome unstable and buggy at first, but it didn't play well with many Web sites, including some of Google's own, because Google made its release a surprise and didn't give webmasters advance notice to adapt their sites.
While Chrome's low adoption in workplaces isn't surprising, its modest popularity among consumers is more worrisome. "We haven't seen any mass exodus from consumers to jump to Chrome from other browsers," McLeish said.
Since Chrome hasn't taken the world by storm, and considering that Microsoft, Mozilla and Apple continue to enhance their respective browsers, should Google stick with this project?
"Google should stay in the game if they think they can innovate and differentiate in the long run and put enough marketing and R&D [research and development] behind the effort," IDC analyst Al Hilwa said via e-mail.
This is Google's intention, according to Brian Rakowski, a Google group product manager in the Chrome team. "There's still a lot of work to do, but it'll be pretty great," he said.
Rakowski takes exception to the idea that Chrome lacks appeal, saying it has about 30 million active users, even though it doesn't yet fully play in the Mac OS, Linux and enterprise IT segments.
"Given the remaining chunk of market that's there, we've done pretty well in a short period of time. If you look at historical browser growth rates, it's a slow process. It takes time," Rakowski said.