John Brandon

Is Chrome the first epic fail at Google?

By John Brandon
September 24, 2008 2:44 PM EDT
In a Computerworld report that summarizes recent Net Applications data, interest in Google Chrome has now died down to a standstill. Most of the people still downloading it are either night owls or from countries outside of the US, such as China, because the only activity is at night. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Chrome searches have now fallen in line with Firefox. This, after a week or hype and unforeseen inmade it seem like Google was going to a) take over the browser market b) usher in the end the OS as we know it and c) probably make Google really rich.

It turns out that Chrome is just another fast browser without any really compelling features that will make people switch once and for all. It may even just be merely a developer tool and not a real browser at all. Yet, there are a few things that have contributed to the flat-lining interest, issues that Google could still fix if they get busy, well - today or sooner.

1. Chrome is relatively stable, but minor irritants such as the undo bug I found make you wonder why you are using it. Chrome is not like a low-level beta app that sort of works and where you put up with bugs because it is so new and innovative. Instead, a browser is the main tool we all use every day, and it better work - we have no patience for buggy browsers like IE.

2. Google has not released an obvious Chrome 1.1 update yet to address bugs, although they have released point upgrades and you can get new versions through a developer program. Huh? A developer program? In Internet time, it has been eons since Chrome was released, and no one wants to figure out how a developer program works just to get a more stable version.

3. There were early concerns over how Google was going to use your private data. They fixed the problem, but a minor glitch at the launch of a social networking site like Lively is nothing compared to a minor glitch with a browser. Everything is more critical and higher profile.

4. Google tends to use very simple anchor pages for their products, but it also makes people think the product is under supported. I'm sure there is a Chrome support forum; the issue is that it is not easy to find and that makes the average user nervous. Are they serious about Chrome? Or was it just an internal browser they used for testing that runs fast and decided to release it publicly? Wait, that's exactly what it is.

5. As Opera has learned, you have to keep the momentum going. Google obviously move don quickly to hype Android and will be in Android mode for some time. Here's the reality check: Google is not Microsoft. They do not have several hundred people working on one product at a time. It's more like a few people or maybe 50. No one knows for sure except Google, but at least on the outside Chrome still seems like an internal project and not a serious product.

6. I wonder where Google can really go with Chrome. For starters, you can't really put advertising on the browser wrapping and on the pages as well. You can tie a search box to advertising, but they already do that with Firefox. It's kind of too late to really beef up the features, and that has never been the goal of Google anyway. Look at Gmail - it is about as barebones as you can get - it runs much faster than Hotmail but has nowhere near as many features. That minimalistic concept works okay with Web software, not as well when it comes to a browser.

7. It's interesting to note that Android is really the first Google product you will be able to hold in your hands - you can literally touch the interface. More importantly, it will be a product you buy - for $180 from T-Mobile. (Google does make an enterprise search appliance but that doesn't really count.) Everything else, including Chrome, is free and in persistent beta.

8. (Updated) Here's one last major issue with Chrome: compatability. I just tried watching a Netflix streaming movie and of course Chrome is not supported. It doesn't work with Movielink or Cinemanow, either. I can imagine that these kinds of sites have no plans to support Chrome, especially when many of them just started supporting Firefox or are still working on Firefox support. As with any software, Web site operators must consider the field: which browser is the most popular?

So will Chrome stick around for years? Probably. But my opinion today is that it rose to quick prominence and then died out just as quickly. It may never come back.


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