Google's reach extends further with Chrome

A frame from Chrome's explanatory comic book.

Today, tech titan Google casts its shadow over another Internet staple: the Web browser. Code-named Chrome, the free program opens up yet another point of entry into Google's ever-expanding ecosystem.

It’ll be interesting to see what new privacy concerns arise from this browser. Already, the Google Goliath watches over users as they search, and watch video, and email friends, and write online documents, and blog, and IM, and (the money maker) view advertisements. But once you left Google’s domain, you escaped its watchful eye. Now, everything a user does online can be tracked, tagged, and targeted back at you.

This will be great for advertisers – it keeps them from hawking to the wrong crowd. And could be great for consumers – it keeps away ads that don’t interest you. But privacy advocates were already alluding to Orwell. A Google browser can’t help that image.

Of course, the simple response is: Just don’t download it. Microsoft has a perfectly good browser that’s used by 72 percent of the market. That high ground has given way over the past few years to Firefox and Safari – but I don’t expect too much of a dip from this newest competitor. At least not for a while.

For one, users who were unhappy with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer have probably already switched to Firefox. And if they weren’t tech-savvy enough to download a new browser, I don’t think Google will change that.

The interesting question – and this when we start looking into the crystal ball – is if Chrome is more of a long-term threat to Windows than to Internet Explorer.

As Google said in its press release: "What we really needed was not just a browser, but also a modern platform for Web pages and applications, and that's what we set out to build.”

Perhaps as more applications stop living on your desktop and set up shop exclusively online, Chrome could be the next wave of operating systems.

“Imagine, in the not too distant future, a Linux-based machine with Chrome and lots of Chrome apps,” mused CNET’s Ina Fried. “Hmm... That's starting to sound like a pretty big threat to Microsoft indeed.”

But that’s years away.

For now, Chrome will probably have a decidedly geeky audience. And I’m looking forward to tinkering with it.

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