For the record, I don't think there is a lot of money in web browsers. They don't draw a lot of advertising money (although many of the web sites they send users to make money via advertising) and nobody has found a great profit-making model out of browsers, either. Just ask Netscape.
What browsers can do is attract a lot of eyeballs and a host of identifiable users. That's what Google is after with the release of its Chrome web browser. Google is the original "software as service" company, with applications like Gmail and Google Docs being more online services than downloadable software apps like Internet Explorer or Microsoft Word.
All that has changed for Google with Tuesday's unveiling of Chrome. Not that Google has a hands-down winner in Chrome - the competition is stiff. Microsoft's Internet Explorer has about 72% of all web browser market share. Mozilla's Firefox (my personal favorite) and Apple's Safari make up most of the rest in terms of market share.
Google follows the same blueprint of Explorer and the others in that it doesn't charge for people to use Chrome, so there's nothing new there for Wall Street. What could intrigue traders, investors, and analysts is that Google promises Chrome to be bug-free, crash-proof, more search-friendly, and cleaner and faster than Explorer (in particular) and the other major web browsers. What I don't like, as an Apple user, is that Chrome only works on Windows, so legions of Mac users like myself are locked out (for now) of Chrome. I have to believe that will be held against Google by investors, millions of who are Apple users, too.
Chrome also goes against the grain of what it historically advocates as a business model. As Forbes.com describes earlier today, "For Google, Chrome’s release offers both risks and rewards. Among the risks: that the company now has too many balls in the air. Two years ago, with Google stock trading in the mid-$400 range, executives began trumpeting the slogan “features not products,” saying employees had taken on more projects than they could manage well.
"But over the past few months we’ve seen Google launch Google Health for online medical records, now its Chrome browser for PCs, and soon its Android operating system for mobile phones – some of its biggest products ever – and the stock is back in the mid-$400s. With Google juggling all that, there’s a real risk that something will slip."
If so, Google doesn't seem to be to spooked about any risk versus reward disasters. As Forbes points out, Google has never had its own "on ramp" to the World Wide Web and with Chrome, now it does. Closing the loops and dominating markets is the surest way to keep investors coming to the table for more Google stock. That's exactly what Google is bent on doing with Chrome - identifying a market where it doesn't dominate and start the process of dominating it.
A homegrown Web browser also allows Google to use its feature services like Google Search, Google Adwords, or Google Maps, for example, and build on them through Chrome. People will continue to grow accustomed to using Google, thus unifying and simplifying the user experience and thereby stamping the Google brand as the go-to point for key services on the web, like phone, search, maps, and of course, information and navigation.
Services remain the key to Google's success, not software. But building Chrome into an eyeball attracting mega-portal on the Internet should help Google consolidate and grow it services business.
That, in the end, is what will attract investors - more people using Google's Chrome as a platform to use Google services. It's an interesting strategy.