Google Chrome: The Fast Browser With Slow Adoption

Educating Consumers

A big reason why it takes time is the complacency of consumers. "Most people honestly don't know and they don't care about browsers. They just want to get on the Web," McLeish said. Even Microsoft struggles with this, as many consumers resist upgrading to newer versions of IE, she said.

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Hilwa's research reflects a similar reality. Consumers have been conditioned to think of the browser as an integral part of their PC and its operating system, and thus are unlikely to switch.

"Using browsers not supplied with the machine remains the province of power-users, which creates a bit of disconnect in the strategy Google has, which is to bring browser innovation to the masses," Hilwa said. "Ultimately, this might become a war about operating system platforms again before it becomes a seriously competitive browser market again."

Aware of this, Google is planning an attack from that flank with its still-unreleased Chrome operating system, which will be deeply interwoven with the Chrome browser. In addition, Google is making moves to have the browser pre-installed on PCs, as a recent deal with Sony shows.

Still, Google, horrified at consumers' ignorance about browsers, has enlisted its marketing department to help educate people. "There's a large number of people who just don't know what a browser is. That's a huge challenge for us," Rakowski said.

In the meantime, the Chrome team keeps focusing primarily on performance improvements, which are the browser's main selling points and ultimately the key reasons for its existence.

"Everything [in the Chrome browser], from the new Javascript engine to its multiprocess architecture, is designed with heavier, more intensive Web apps in mind," Rakowski said.

While this is a valid effort, the average user cares or understands little about browser speed and performance, so this is unlikely to draw many new users.

"Most of the internal stuff is really lost on the unwashed masses of users who are not going to get into the complexity of browsers," Hilwa said.

Plus, the browser is far from the only element that affects the performance of online applications and services, McLeish said. Local network bandwidth, ISP (Internet service provider) traffic, the user's PC hardware and the landing Web site's server all play a part.

Google's Strategy

Google argues that the value of the Chrome project isn't limited to its own success. As an open-source browser, Chrome can help spur innovation in browser technology across the board, which is crucial for Google, Rakowski said.

However, it's unclear to what extent it will be feasible for other browsers to incorporate Chrome code, when one hears Rakowski explain why Google decided to build a new browser instead of simply contributing to Firefox.

"There were reasons not to build on existing technology. Some of the architectural changes we wanted to make were so different and disruptive that it would have been very hard to do in existing code base and very disruptive to existing road maps and plans of these teams," he said. "You would have had to put the entire development cycle on hold while you experimented with some of these research-y things."

What's clear is that, as Chrome enters its second year, the Chrome team is moving as fast as it can, eager to release versions for Mac OS and Linux and add enterprise IT features, as well as work its way down its long to-do list.

"As soon as we get some time to breathe we'll add those things and that'll enable us to reach a whole other set of users," Rakowski said.

And when that happens, it will be not a moment too soon.

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