Google Chrome: Why it's a game-changer

For those of us who've been in the tech game for a while, browser wars are nothing new. (Remember a humble little company called Netscape?) But there's something about the launch of Google's new browser, Chrome, which promises to be a game-changer in a way previous generations of browsers haven't been.

Sure, Firefox has been a smashing success, making a surprisingly large dent in the browser market against the hegemony of Microsoft. And yes, there's Safari and Opera, both of which have a small but persistently entrenched piece of the browser market. But none, even Firefox--which saw a staggering 8 million downloads in one 24-hour period in July alone--have the potential to disrupt the enterprise IT market that Google Chrome does.

To understand why Chrome is so disruptive, even if it doesn't offer big innovations, let's look at the way it differs from browsers of the past--while borrowing from the strengths of their business models. On the one hand, it's old school, in that it draws on a monolithic business model--the browser, today's web nerve center if not its OS--and can leverage the strengths of being affiliated with the one of the most powerful web brands ever known.

On the other hand, Chrome is leveraging the viral power and community support that comes with creating an open-source product, drawing heavily on, not only Firefox, but also Apple's WebKit. In theory, going open source will allow Google to shorten Chrome's development cycle, then pump it onto the web with a force no poorly-funded open-source project could match.

What this means, ultimately, is that Chrome is likely to be a game-changer at a level that goes well beyond whether it snags as many users as the more mature IE (currently at version 8, beta 2). It has both open-source agility and the astonishing marketing muscle of a Fortune 100 giant.

Then, consider this. Until now, browsers have largely been built as an application to ride upon an operating system. Sure, Microsoft ultimately embedded IE in Windows, but that came well after it created the application in the first place. Firefox, the wild talent that it is, sort of exploded out of nowhere, but again, it isn't tuned to any particular application.

Then, Chrome emerges from the mist.

With Google applications rapidly merging with the desktop (think Documents and Calendar for starters), it is becoming the operating system for the world. And now, we're seeing the birth of a browser that was born, and will be developed, to play a distinct role in that emerging, web-based, component-ized operating system. It's pretty intimidating to consider.

Now, if you want me to tell you how all of this will affect health IT, I'm sorry to say that I really don't know. But if I were running an enterprise IT shop, healthcare-based or otherwise, I'd be doing a lot of boning up on Google's vision for the future of web browsing, how that fits into existing desktop applications, and what I should do about it. If not, you may be on the wrong side of a browser war you can't afford to ignore.  - Anne