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Google polishes Chrome, Microsoft calls foul

By / May 12, 2009

Screen shot of Google's Chrome ad

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Google may be known for search. But its billions came from cornering the online ad market.

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So the tech press enjoyed a touch of irony when the Web giant commissioned its first TV ad. "What does it mean when a company that built its empire on Internet advertising decides to turn to another medium to promote its own products?" chuckled Ars Technica.

This 30-second spot promotes an odd branch of the Google family tree: Chrome, its fledgling web browser.

The ad's tone is inexplicable, yet somehow appropriate. Google has always portrayed itself as a company that plays well with others. It couldn't adopt Apple's light-hearted smugness or Microsoft's fake candid moments. Instead, the Chrome ad seems to have been filmed in the corner of a kindergarten classroom. It's playful and colorful (much like Google's logo) but only lightly alludes to what Chrome actually does.

Google has done a lot to buff its browser recently. It regularly talks up the program's speed, helpful updates, and growing developer community. But despite plenty of buzz among early adopters, Chrome holds a measly 1 percent market share.

That statistic could skyrocket if the European Commission has its way. A recent proposal would force Microsoft to include competing Web browsers with every copy of Windows. The EC hopes the additional options would break any potential monopoly that Microsoft could leverage by bundling Windows with its own Internet Explorer, which enjoys more than 90 percent worldwide market share.

Microsoft strongly protests the measure. According to its lawyers, the EC proposal would prevent one potential monopoly by promoting another. This argument ties back into how Google got its billions.

Chrome's default search function leads people to Google. And Google search serves up Google ads, the company's main moneymaker. This connection might not sound like much of a cash cow, but don't be deceived. Second-place browser Firefox earns most of its money through a partnership with Google that directs users to the company's search site (and, again, to Google's advertising empire).

Therefore, Microsoft says, if the EC mandates greater adoption of Chrome or Firefox, it could cement Google's place at the top of the online ad market.

“Not only would Google’s browser Chrome suddenly be on all Windows PCs, but it would strengthen Google’s dominance in search advertising,” said an anonymous source "with direct knowledge of Microsoft’s legal defense" in the NYTimes.

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