Chrome gaining ground in a war without a winner

Chrome has inched into third place--a distant third--among Web browsers, but the real question is "who cares?"
  • (PC World (US online))
  • — 03 February, 2010 06:27

The latest browser market share numbers are out and, judging by the headlines, Google is crushing the competition with the Chrome Web browser. Chrome is "on a roll", or even "skyrocketing" depending on the source.

You may be surprised to find that, behind the hyperbole, Chrome is the third place Web browser with a meager 5.2 percent market share. Chrome has only about one-fifth the market share of second place Firefox, and a miniscule one-tenth of the still-dominant Internet Explorer.

I am not sure that 5.2 percent and "skyrocketing" really go together. Chrome "jumped" almost six-tenths of a percentage point--a whopping six-hundredths of a percentage point more than the drop experienced by Internet Explorer.

Microsoft should just fold up its tent and get out of the browser business now. Its demise is obviously inevitable judging by the sensational assessments being made throughout the media.

Wait. Perhaps that is a tad premature. At the rate of a six-hundredths of a percent gain each month, Chrome will pass Internet Explorer....carry the three...divide by the co-efficient--never mind. It will be a long, long, long time--like after I'm dead and buried.

But, here's the real question: who cares?? Honestly. The browser wars are the technology equivalent of following celebrity stories in the tabloids, or worrying about who will take home the Grammy award for "best female artist". It captures headlines and makes for some passionate debate around the water cooler, yet matters not one iota in the real world.

From the perspective of the vendors making the browsers, the only thing really at stake is bragging rights. The software is distributed for free. There is no profit motive to the browser wars. Winning the browser wars is, at best, a hollow victory.

Google and Microsoft generate revenue from other Web-based ventures, particularly online and search-based advertising, but that revenue is browser-agnostic. Google and Microsoft get paid for the ads no matter which browser is used to surf the Web and view the ads. If Microsoft could capture a dominant share of the Web advertising revenue, but lose the browser wars, that would be an acceptable exchange as far as shareholders are concerned.

As far as users are concerned, the Web browser is really a simple matter of preference. One may be milliseconds faster than another, or include a unique feature or two, but for the most part a browser is a browser is a browser.

The decision between using Firefox, or Chrome, or Internet Explorer is like the decision between buying a Mustang, or an Impala, or a Suburban, or like choosing whether to watch Big Bang Theory or How I Met Your Mother. It's a matter of subjective opinion.

For businesses and IT administrators, there are some other, more practical considerations that go into the browser decision. Businesses have Web-enabled applications that may not work in some browsers, or may work better in one browser than another. Switching browsers could invite a massive undertaking to re-engineer those applications.

IT administrators also need Web browsers that are simple to deploy, configure, and maintain across the network. Web browsers that tie in with Microsoft Active Directory and provide the ability to manage via Group Policy have an advantage in a business-world that tends to be Microsoft-centric.

Aside from that, though, businesses don't really need to care about the browser wars either. As long as the browser works with the applications the business uses, and provides a means for centrally managing and maintaining it, IT administrators aren't going to lose any sleep over whether it comes from Microsoft, or Mozilla, or Google.

Congratulations to Chrome for scratching its way into a distant third in a war without a winner.

Tony Bradley tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW, and can be contacted at his Facebook page.

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
Topics: web browsers, Google Chrome
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