The Google Firefox search deal, Chrome and Lady GaGa

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In a response to MG Siegler's post about the Google and Firefox deal, Chrome engineer Peter Kasting posted to Google+:

People never seem to understand why Google builds Chrome no matter how many times I try to pound it into their heads. It's very simple: the primary goal of Chrome is to make the web advance as much and as quickly as possible. That's it. It's completely irrelevant to this goal whether Chrome actually gains tons of users or whether instead the web advances because the other browser vendors step up their game and produce far better browsers. Either way the web gets better. Job done. The end.

I believe the first part about wanting to advance the web. Google's foray into browsers began with the Gears project, an extension to existing browsers that implemented new HTML5 (then Web Applications 1.0) technologies such as localStorage. Browser development was stagnant at the time and since Google is a web company they needed browsers to push forward in order to compete with the desktop and enterprise software industries with solutions such as Apps for Business.

This effort led to Chrome, a new (and in my opinion, the best) browser which has now overtaken Firefox and attained a 25% market share globally.

But to say that attaining users for Chrome is a nice side-effect of doing good for web technology is a stretch. Google was previously known as a 'no marketing' or 'anti marketing' company where the product speaks for itself, but this year it increased marketing and advertising spend to $4.9 Billion dollars, up 69% over last year.

A lot of mainstream technology users now know what Chrome is because of this marketing effort. Building a good browser that is better than the rest will win you a lot of developers as converts, and some early adopters, but that is worth probably around 10% of the market. The remaining 15% was bought with a large-scale traditional marketing campaign that involved no less than Lady GaGa appearing in a Chrome ad and an advertisement during the SuperBowl (see more here on where Google is spending that budget.

For some reason Google (or some Chrome developers, at least) want their effort to appear purely altruistic, while the marketing arm of the company is investing billions in attracting users to their platform. There is nothing wrong with this - Chrome is the best browser and spending to convert users to it is a huge favor to web application developers as well.

As for MG's other post today over at Techcrunch asking why Chrome took off where Safari didn't, I can think of a few reasons:

  • Google rewrote a new Javascript JIT compiler, V8, from scratch. The performance improvement was significant and it raised the bar for Javascript performance (that engine is also used by the node.js project)
  • The Javascript engine and the Webkit rendering engine combined provide the fastest browsing experience on most platforms (this is my anecdotal experience - I haven't benchmarked it)
  • Apple don't really promote and market Safari as much as Google promotes Chrome, and Safari on Windows is terrible.
  • There is a thriving extension ecosystem and developer community around Chrome. Developing extensions for Chrome is a breeze and a dream. The Web Store is also easy to use and navigate.
  • The Omnibar. Seriously, how did we use browsers before this thing. Whenever I am in Safari or another browser I can't break out of the habit of entering search terms or keywords into the address bar and hitting enter.

The Firefox deal is paying Mozilla what the traffic is worth. What Google is paying for in the deal is the percentage of Firefox users who would otherwise not use Google as their browser were it not the default. This would likely be 30% of users of the 25% total Firefox share - so roughly 7.5% of all web browser users. $300M is cheap when you consider the billions invested by Microsoft in Bing marketing to attain a 10-15% market share.

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