Google on Tuesday launched its own internet browser, opening up a new challenge in cyberspace to Microsoft and its dominant Internet Explorer.
The California-based web search leader said the new browser, called Google Chrome, would “add value for users and, at the same time, help drive innovation on the web”.
“Google Chrome is a new approach to the browser that’s based on the simplicity and power that users have come to expect from Google products,” the company said in a statement.
“We realised… we needed to completely rethink the browser,” Google’s Sundar Pichai said in a blog post.
The test or “beta” version can be downloaded for free in more than 100 countries and its code will be open source so no rights will have to be paid by anyone using or adapting the software.
Chrome is Google’s latest weapon in its bid to become the leader in all internet areas. The last major browser war was won by Microsoft when it won the battle for dominance in the 1990s against Netscape Navigator.
Google’s browser will be available in more than 40 languages.
The move comes amid growth in browser market share by Firefox, a project of the non-profit Mozilla Foundation, which ironically gets a large portion of its funding from Google.
According to estimates by the research firm Net Applications, Internet Explorer is used by 74 percent of computer users worldwide compared with 18 percent for Firefox.
News of the browser leaked out on Monday when Google released a comic book describing the advantages of Chrome. According to the comic book, the new browser will have several advantages including being “multi-threaded” to help avoid freeze-ups.
“We hit ‘send’ a bit early on a comic book introducing our new open-source browser, Google Chrome. As we believe in access to information for everyone, we’ve now made the comic publicly available,” said Pichai.
Microsoft ‘won’t like the ending’
The announcement comes as Microsoft released a beta version of IE8, the eighth major version of its Explorer. The new version is touted as faster, with more graphics and allows users to easily get updates from their favourite websites.
“This (Chrome) is a straight shot over the bow of Microsoft, which has tightly integrated its Live Search offering into its dominant Internet Explorer browser,” said Mark Hendrickson in a posting on the technology website TechCrunch.
“It also makes for an awkward relationship with Mozilla, whose Firefox browser Google basically funds.”
Henry Blodget of Silicon Valley Insider said: “Microsoft has seen this movie before. This time, it won’t like the ending.”
Blodget said Google is attempting to drive more people to Google search and other applications and away from Microsoft.
“If you’re thinking about Chrome as just another web browser, you’re missing the larger point,” he said.
“In a couple of years, you won’t be downloading Google’s ‘browser.’ You’ll be downloading Google’s software – or, rather, you’ll be clicking on a series of Google icons that come pre-installed. Specifically, you’ll be working within a Google software environment that works sort of like Windows.”
Greg Sterling of the website Search Engine Land said: “One way to look at this is as a kind of operating system for the emerging ‘cloud computing’ world,” a reference to the use of the internet instead of personal computers to store documents and information.
“Chrome does have the potential to contribute to a decline in desktop OS- (operating system-) based computing,” he said. “However, it’s way premature to call it a Windows Killer in my view.”
Mitchell Baker of the Mozilla Foundation said he remained confident about Firefox.
“We’ll continue to compete in the browser world, and we’ll continue to do well,” he said.
“Competition is seldom comfortable, but it forces us to do our best. Firefox 3 is a terrific product and there’s much more to come.”