Simon Willison’s Weblog


The Google Browser

17th July 2003

Anil Dash suggests Google should start sponsoring the Mozilla project, and use it as a basis for releasing their own browser. He makes a very good case:

Firebird is, finally, a usable browser, and damn close to the being the best in the world, if it isn’t already. Google’s shown the ability to get an installable client onto millions of desktops around the world. And they have a user experience focus that would nicely shore up the critical weakness that’s dogged Mozilla from day one. If the goal is now organizing and presenting information instead of just being the best search engine, then a browser client focused on information retrieval, search, and management is a great first step. And I’d give them better than even odds at being able to grow that application into a full microcontent client if they were so inclined.

The Google toolbar is a runaway success, but could a Google browser be nearly as popular? Google seem to be in the ideal position to launch a browser: they are one of the most popular and trusted brands on the internet, and have a reputation for usability which fits brilliantly with the focus of the Firebird browsers. Mozilla advocates such as myself have long bemoaned the fact that far better browsers exist which the IE using public are completley unaware of. Google have the marketing coverage and the influence to help them discover the alternatives.

What’s in it for Google? Anil suggests built in hooks to Google’s services and APIs, evolving in to a fully fledged microcontent client. I think the biggest advantage is the huge boost a well promoted alternative browser would give to the overall health of the internet. Without competition to drive it forward IE has stagnated, and the web has stopped moving forward. Introduce “Firebird, Google edition” to the mix and things suddenly get interesting again.

Oh, and just think of the cool things Google could do with XUL.

Further Thoughts (updated 11:27am)

With Microsoft’s recent announcements that they plan to compete seriously with Google in the search market, this idea becomes even more relevant. Microsoft have a history of using the dominance in one area to win market share in another (they are after all a convicted monopoly). If they’re planning a big push on Microsoft Search you can bet they’ll use Internet Explorer to help them get it—it already defaults to searching MSN if you enter words straight in to the location bar. If IE retains its market dominance, Google will be competing on Microsoft’s turf, and MS don’t have a very good history of playing fair. With their own cross-platform browser, Google will be in a far stronger tactical position.

This is The Google Browser by Simon Willison, posted on 17th July 2003.

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