Is Google exploiting the success of Chrome?
After only a few short years in the game, Google Chrome (apparently) recently claimed the number 2 spot in the Internet browser wars, overtaking Firefox, Mozilla’s edgy open-source offering for the first time. As a Chrome user myself I can totally understand Chrome’s success, but it also got me thinking, how much is Google exploiting this position, as it has been doing with your personal information – the main other area in which it has been dominant – for years.
Google is still seen by many as a friendly entity, the David against the Microsoft Goliath, the unthreatening colourful brand with the funny little Doodles on its home page. Indeed this very writer can be accused of sucking up to this perception (see my 5th point “It’s Googley!” as a reason for Chrome OS’s potential suitability to business). But let’s not forget that Google is a $30 billion company, and like all other companies of this size, it looks for ways to get even bigger. With this goal in mind, it would be daft for it to not to take advantage of any natural opportunities that arise out of its existing success. Microsoft is accused of doing it with Windows, Apple is accused of doing it with its iOS devices, and after years doing it more subtly with our data, Google is now doing it more openly with Chrome.
The reason for this observation comes from the increasingly proprietary nature of Chrome, in place of the open standards that the web is built on. The main evidence of this is that Google is now targeting Chrome almost exclusively with its products, so that Google sites only function fully when viewed in Chrome. Features like drag-and-drop in Google Docs for example only work in Chrome, as do Google Apps notifications for email and calendar events. SPDY, an HTTP replacement developed by Google, is perhaps the best example of their move to proprietary standards. While they are seeking to promote it as a new standard in the open source community, Google is the only one really using it today. And they only use it on Google sites running on Google Chrome.
This move to proprietary systems is a problem because it goes against the openness of the web. It also echoes the path of Microsoft’s own Internet Explorer 6, which heralded in its own raft of proprietary features when it was launched. In the long term, when combined with the browser’s dominance, this led to web developers shunning open standards in favour of IE6, undermining browser choice and stifling web creativity. Google has brought the web forward in many ways, so it needs to be careful not to repeat this step. Even Microsoft realised it needed to return to open standards (check out www.ie6countdown.com where it is actively leading the charge to kill off IE6), so let’s hope Google learns this lesson sooner rather than later.