This week Google announced their new Chrome Web Store. Much like Apple’s AppStore allows iPhone users to download and install Apps meant only for their devices, the Chrome Web Store is intended to allow users to find and install applications that run specifically in the Google Chrome browser.
A lot of people are trying to figure out what the benefit of Web Apps in a browser could possibly be. Indeed many of the Apps are little more than links to Cloud based web applications, causing many to complain that Google has no clue what it is doing. Most people reviewing the Chrome Web Store believe it is a waste if they aren’t all “Real Apps.”
The problem is that many people are thinking about Apps that can link data to their current desktop applications. Because we all have to run native applications on a modern computer operating system right? Google clearly doesn’t understand that if they are offering Apps that are confined to running inside of a browser, right?
On the contrary, Google knows exactly what it is doing and that’s why Apple and Microsoft are starting too look so worried.
To understand why that is you have to watch the entire web announcement from Google from December 7th. You see the Chrome Web Store was only one of three things Google talked about that day. The first item was the Chrome browser itself. In their discussion they talked about how much effort they have put in to making Chrome as fast and secure as possible.
Among other performance features that were discussed Google showed off new WebGL capabilities of the new browser. WebGL is a direct descendent of OpenGL and a competitor to Microsoft's DirectX API, the engine that runs all of the games on Microsoft Windows and Xbox 360. By combining OpenGL with the browser developers hope to be able to create the same kind of rich content and gaming experience that currently requires an expensive gaming system. By making it part of the browser Google hopes to make this possible on any platform at a very lost cost.
And that’s what the third and biggest part of Google’s presentation was about: their platform, Chrome OS. Google showed off a beta of their OS running on a Laptop computer specifically designed for it. While they stated that the Laptop was no different from most Laptops and could run another OS such as Windows or Linux, it was clear they have something much different in mind. You see the Chrome OS is simply the Chrome browser, running directly on the Hardware without anybody else's OS.
If you think about that for a few minutes you will start to see what Apple and Microsoft might be worrying about. In fact this isn’t really news this week. Back in 1995 when Microsoft founder Bill Gates first saw the or first Netscape browser he immediately saw the threat to his company. Because if you could run a single application (a browser) that allowed you to view, edit and share documents in easily created formats then why would people need Microsoft Office? If you could run that browser on a computer without an underlying Operating System, then why would people need Microsoft Windows?
This was the reason that Gates famously changed the direction of Microsoft and poured millions of dollars into the development of Internet Explorer. If Microsoft could create the best web experience, then they could keep customers buying their other products. They could also dictate the way the Web is used and curtail the threat.
And it has very nearly worked. Fifteen years later Google is the first company to be big enough financially to create a browser that has really threatened Internet Explorer. Google is also big enough to take it to the next scary (for Microsoft) level, making an OS based entirely on a browser and eliminate the need for any Microsoft products at all.
But Google didn’t just come up with this plan recently. They’ve had this in mind for years. Using the billions of dollars they made with advertising sold in their famous search engine they created some of their first web based applications, like Gmail and Google Calendar. The popularity of these apps are partially mostly based on the fact that a person doesn’t have to buy special email or calendar applications for their computer. They just need a browser, any browser.
Since then a flood of Google apps have been released: Google Maps, Google Earth, Picasa, Google Talk, and dozens more. Newer Google Docs and Google Voice have aimed directly at competing with Microsoft for office productivity.
And all you need to use any of these applications is a browser with a connection to the Web. Notice I didn’t say a computer with an Operating System? Believe me, Microsoft notices that.
And now we are getting Chrome OS to round out Microsoft’s perfect storm. A cheap laptop or netbook combined with the Chrome OS and the Chrome Web Store and you have everything you need to work, play and shop without ever buying a computer operating system from Microsoft, or Apple. In 1995 Bill Gates saw the danger the first web browsers posed to his companies business model. Sales of the Windows OS still accounts for the biggest share of Microsoft’s annual revenues.
I suspect in the executive offices at Apple and Microsoft they know exactly why Google made this announcement on December 7th. The great old battleships Windows and Macintosh are in for some rough times.