There’s a lot of chatter about how Chrome is overtaking Internet Explorer, what that means for Microsoft, and how this benefits Google – but realistically, these aren’t the point. No one has checked the purpose of each of theses browsers. Yes, ostensibly, they perform the same task – they both browse the Web and render content from the Internet. But there is a difference.
Chrome is a platform. Internet Explorer has been relegated as a tool.
Chrome and, by association, Chrome OS are platforms. They exist to link Google’s services with your desktop, or your Chrome OS experience. Chrome syncs across all other Chrome browsers linked to your Google account, it has an HTML5 app store, and it also makes Web life much easier, thanks to built-in features like embedded (and self-updating) Flash. Chrome supports a wide range of plug-ins and extensions, it auto-updates itself, and it even offers an expansive under-the-hood settings section. It’s a developers dream.
With Google continually slip-streaming support for the latest and greatest Web protocols (WebGL, SPDY), cutting edge is always comfortably within reach. And let’s not forget that Chrome is cross-platform browser, meaning Linux, Mac OS X and Windows users can all enjoy the exact same benefits, bookmarks and features. At a time when Google’s popularity is (arguably) at an all-time high, people like Google and they want more of it, and Chrome is a great way to do that. The past rise of Firefox has warmed even the least-experienced users to thinking about alternative browsers, which makes trying out Chrome a reasonable task.
Microsoft’s reputation with consumers leaves a bit more to be desired (though Windows 8 could change that). Internet Explorer – even with its newer iterations – carries a long legacy of annoyances, hiccups, toolbars, malware, etc. IE does not offer the same level of connectivity and native service integration as Chrome. This is another reason why it’s a tool. In the strictest sense of the word, IE functions to browse the Web, save your bookmarks and connect you with exclusive Microsoft Web platforms. For example, our intrepid editor-in-chief, Larry Walsh, was unhappy to find that Microsoft’s cloud services, like Lync, did not function inside of Chrome, forcing him to use Internet Explorer. Consider the following: IE was leveraged as a temporary ‘tool’ to get from Web point A to Web point B. It is hardly a platform. It wasn’t even Walsh’s first choice.
Will Chrome’s dominance hurt Microsoft’s cloud potential? It shouldn’t. That is, not if Microsoft focuses on what makes it a great company: software. Microsoft has the potential to be the most popular kid in school if it builds standardized Web services that can integrate with every browser. But the problem right now is that Microsoft has a bad case of the “me toos.”
Take a look at the IE10 Test Drive page. Microsoft has positioned IE 10 to be the Google Chrome for Windows 8 – apps, Windows cloud app integration, the whole shebang. The problem is, with shrinking IE market-share, there are less and less users willing to buy into Microsoft’s ecosystem, and many who are already deeply entangled with Google. Even intrigued users will still ask “Why?” when considering a switch to a Microsoft-branded product that duplicates something they already have. Bing is a perfect example, as it mirrors Google’s search platform. Make no mistake, IE 10 will continue to mirror Chrome’s efforts as well.
So let’s put a button on this. Google’s intentions have almost always been to make Chrome an extensible, ubiquitous platform for all walks of the Web. Microsoft has slowly evolved IE into what it hopes will be similar, but it’s very late to the game. With shrinking market share, Microsoft will likely continue to restrict its cloud services and technologies in a desperate attempt to build up the IE “platform” and lengthen its relevance. But realistically, this will only hurt Microsoft’s and IE’s images, as people fumble over to IE and use it as tool to Microsoft services instead of a friendly portal to the Web.
With cross-platform support for Chrome, millions of entangled users, Chromebooks and copies of Chrome OS seeping into the marketplace, this is very much the beginning of the end for Microsoft’s long-held dominance in the browser world.
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