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Google move may mark new front in browser war

By Gregg Keizer
September 14, 2009 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - Sony Corp.'s recent agreement to pre-install Google Inc.'s Chrome on its Vaio line of PCs could mark the start of a renewed push by the search leader to boost its browser business.

The move comes about a year after Google debuted the Chrome browser to great fanfare but then failed to meet the initial expectations of analysts.

"From the outside, the thought last year was that Google would push Chrome a lot more than it has," said Gartner Inc. analyst Ray Valdes, who had expected Chrome to have more than its current 2.9% share of the browser market a year after its launch last September.

"But with this deal, Google is signaling to the market and to competitors that it's taking a more traditional approach to marketing Chrome," he added. "Call it the Microsoftian approach to the market."

A Google spokesman said the company is exploring how to get Chrome on even more PCs.

Sheri McLeish, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., said the move represents a change in strategy for Google, because such deals are "a really fast-track way to grow market share."

McLeish called the Sony agreement a milestone because Google was able to convince the PC maker that its browser is a legitimate contender against Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Apple's Safari and Mozilla's Firefox.

"To get the deal done, I'm sure Chrome had to go through some rigorous technical testing to make sure it was a viable browser," McLeish said. "It could pose tremendous risk to Sony if, for example, Chrome wasn't secure enough for consumers."

Valdes and McLeish both said that Google faces an uphill battle against Microsoft in the browser business even with the Sony deal. One barrier is IE's market share, which Web metrics firm Net Applications puts at 66.6%.

"In terms of real market adoption, [the Sony deal isn't] going to have a tremendous impact," Valdes said. "You can't make a frontal assault [on IE], not these days."

Any potential IE rival faces serious hurdles in the enterprise market, the analysts noted, since businesses are loath to switch their workers to a different browser.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It's an edited version of an article that first appeared on Computerworld.com.

Read more about Networking in Computerworld's Networking Topic Center.



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