Don't Bet It All on Google Chrome

Chrome may look like a consumer-level browser, but Preston Gralla says Google has its eye on the enterprise.

Think that Google's much-ballyhooed new Web browser, Chrome, is aimed at helping people surf the Web? Think again.

The browser instead takes dead aim at Microsoft Office and Microsoft Exchange. If Google has its way, your enterprise will use Chrome as a platform for Web-based applications from Google. You'll abandon Office, Outlook and others, and you'll bid Microsoft goodbye.

Any surfing you do with it, from Google's point of view, is pure gravy.

Even though the world has greeted Chrome as a consumer-level browser, Google didn't conceive of it that way. In a blog post on the company's Web site, Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management, and Linus Upson, engineering director, made no bones about what Google wanted to do when it designed Chrome:

"We realized that the Web had evolved from mainly simple text pages to rich, interactive applications and that we needed to completely rethink the browser. What we really needed was not just a browser, but also a modern platform for Web pages and applications, and that's what we set out to build."

To that end, Chrome is the first browser built from the ground up for a world in which the browser is an enterprise front end for Web-based applications and services such as Google Docs and Gmail.

Chrome is designed to work mostly with AJAX and Web 2.0 applications. Google built its own JavaScript virtual machine, called V8, for running JavsScript. In addition, each tab in Chrome runs as a separate browser, so that if one tab gets busy, bogs down or crashes, it won't affect the other tabs. And Chrome comes equipped with Google Gears, a kind of glue for binding Web-based applications to your hard disk.

Chrome even includes features that make it appear as if Web-based applications are really software running on your own PC. You can create desktop shortcuts to Web applications that, when double-clicked on, run in a special window that has no browser controls -- no tabs, buttons or address bar. All you see is the application itself, as if it were a desktop application.

Google hopes that once enterprises use Chrome as a platform, they will abandon desktop-based applications for Web-based ones and desert Microsoft Office and Exchange for Google Docs and Gmail.

So it's clear that with Chrome, Google is selling a proposition: Give up Microsoft for Google. But should you buy?

The answer is not yet, not by a long shot.

Chrome itself is still an early beta product. Given Google's tendency to keep its software and services in beta for years -- Gmail is still in beta, and it was launched in 2004 -- don't expect it to come out of beta for a while.

In addition, Google Docs simply isn't up to the standards of Office. It's rudimentary and lacks too many features. And the Web itself still isn't fast or reliable enough for corporations to give up Office. Beyond that, there are training, deployment, stability and management issues. And many enterprises have standardized on Internet Explorer and use ActiveX controls, which Chrome doesn't support. Abandoning all that would take an enormous amount of time and resources.

Microsoft also has a long, proven track record with enterprises. Google, as of yet, doesn't.

Robert Fort, CIO at Virgin Entertainment Group, summed up the problem: "I give Google all the credit in the world for innovative solutions, but to Microsoft's credit, they've got a lot more of an enterprise attitude."

Fort is right. So it's a good idea to give Chrome a test-drive. But as new and shiny as the browser may be, it's not yet time to bet the enterprise on it.

Preston Gralla is a Computerworld contributing editor and the author of more than 35 books, including How the Internet Works and Windows Vista in a Nutshell. Contact him at

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon