Google considers preinstalling Chrome on new PCs

By JR Raphael, PC World |  Internet, browser, Chrome

Many may have already called it "game over" for Google's Chrome browser, but Google sees the great browser race as just getting started. Now, the search giant is looking at preinstalling Chrome on new PCs as it fights to topple Internet Explorer as the Web surfing platform of choice.

The revelation comes from an interview published in The Times this week with Google Vice President of Product Management Sundar Pichai. Chrome is almost ready to come out of beta, Pichai indicates -- possibly as early as January -- and "distribution deals" are likely to follow. Chrome's Mac and Linux versions are also both expected to debut during the first half of 2009, he says.

Timing Tactics

Following an immediate surge of excitement surrounding its debut, the shine on Chrome started to fade fast. Before long, the Google browser experiment seemed like little more than another blip in the deep pool of Google Labs failures. Google, though, says its quiet approach was not a sign of abandonment; rather, it was simply holding back its strongest push until after the browser's full release.

"We will throw our weight behind it," Pichai tells The Times. "We've been conservative because its still in beta, but once we get it out of beta we will work hard at getting the word out, promoting to users, and marketing will be a part of that."

Some anonymous "Google insiders" have been quoted claiming Acer, Dell, HP, and Toshiba all want to take Chrome over IE for their products' default browsers. Google's spokespeople declined to confirm or deny any of the specifics but say the company is "continuing to explore ways to make Google Chrome accessible to even more users," which "could potentially include distribution agreements with OEMs," or original equipment manufacturers.
Chrome's Challenges

Such deals could be just what Chrome needs to build its niche within the browser market. New data from online research firm Net Applications shows Chrome's market share dropped another 0.04 percent in October, following a 0.22 percent fall the month before. Chrome now commands only 0.74 percent of the browser market, compared to Internet Explorer at 71.27 percent, Mozilla's Firefox at 19.97 percent, Safari at 6.57 percent, and Opera at 0.75 percent.

Despite the fact that recently reported numbers show 91 percent of Mozilla's revenue coming from its search deal with Google, its foundation chairman stated in an interview this week that she's not "particularly worried" about the competition with Chrome.
"We expect Chrome to have some amount of market share, but we don't expect it to balloon," she says.

Mozilla's CTO, however, acknowledges the fierce rivalry between the two products from an innovation standpoint. "It's really a neck and neck race," Brendan Eich tells Webware. "There is a contest going on not only between Google and Mozilla but also Apple to have the fastest JavaScript engine, to have the best performance on various benchmarks."

Indeed, most independent measures put Chrome and Firefox in a virtual dead heat when it comes to the speed of their JavaScript engines. Firefox's much touted TraceMonkey engine has yet to be finalized, though, remaining a hidden feature in the most recent beta release and said to still be under development.

The Next Round

If Google were to secure preinstallation deals, it could have the potential to make a measurable impact once Chrome is ready for release. Tech analysts have long credited IE's success with the fact that it comes preloaded on the majority of new machines. With antitrust regulations in place, Microsoft would have a tough time keeping Google from securing its own arrangements. And being that IE has seen its shares slipping lately, if there were ever a time for Chrome to strike, now just might be it.

Of course, Chrome must also first address the bevy of problems that have concerned its early users. Still, being that it's yet to even exit beta, flying the "fail" flag now may indeed be jumping the gun when it comes to Chrome's assessment. Google says the best is yet to come. Let's see if it can deliver.

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