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September 22, 2004

of Google and browsers

On May 19 I published Plus Ca Change, some thoughts on the past present and future of web browsing, and web standards.

In it I made one predication which I will now recant, one observation which was wrong and I have already recanted, and one plea/conjecture that it is now being reported by such eminent new organizations as the New York Post as a possibility. I'll claim that one if it comes off. Call me George Gilder. Actually, don't call me, George Gilder and Don't call me "George Gilder".

Prediction 1

1. My prediction was that Mozilla based browsers would never reignite the browser wars. Wrong.
The wonderful Firefox is not only light, fast, fresh, and standards based, but introduces and refines new ways of working with the web, from automatic RSS detection and simple subscription, to tabbed browsing, popup blocking, and considerably better security than even the IE 6 released in XP SP2. Sure they didn't invent all of this, but they are bringing it to you thick and fast.

I suggested being a better mousetrap was not going to be enough. Seems like being better in itself may be enough.
Developer sites, like westciv (yes, we have a specialized audience, more likely to be early adopters, but early adopters lead the way for tomorrows users, both figuratively, and literally as they are the people who spread the word about good new stuff) show a significant increase in Mozilla based browser traffic (and KHTML based traffic, most likely Safari). This almost entirely at the expense of Internet Explorer.
In our case, IE traffic (all versions all platforms) has dropped from well over 80% less than a year ago, to just under 50%, with Mozilla based browsers over 30%

More mainstream sites report a significant if not as dramatic fall in IE use and rise in Mozilla and other browsers.

Observation 1

My observation that iTunes is based on Safari (and so Safari on Windows would be easy enough to do) was wrong, as Dave Hyatt pointed out some time ago. Can't blame a guy for trying. I just wish it were. Sadly, Dave observes that Safari for Windows would be non trivial.

None for 2.

Prediction 2

But the one that is doing the rounds that I conjectured about is a Google branded browser. Now, in fairness, Anil Dash, of 6Apart fame also made the observation about a year earlier, but I didn't know about that 'til afterwards, OK! Then again, about 4 trillion times as many people read Anil's blog than read mine, no doubt, and so he'll get all the credit :-)

But seriously, the New York Post yesterday published the speculation that Google may be building a browser (doubtless based on one of the fine open source browsers available.) Based in part I think on Jason Kottke's investigative work.
Slashdot, Macslash, The Buzz, the Register, and all the usual suspects have picked it up and run with it.

The story doesn't really have much meat, and I have no doubt that Google has many little projects going on. A place full of very smart people with loads of enthusiasm, a fair bit of money, and a free reign tends to get all sorts of crazy stuff happening.
What is interesting is the widespread interest, in the blogosphere, the geeksphere, the more mainstream tech press, and the very mainstream press (the New york Post).

People want this to be true.

But Is it?

What would a google browser be?

What would a Google Browser look like and do? Google hasn't succeeded because of branding, the brand has succeeded because of its underlying services. Google searching "just works".
While the technically literate use google, so too does just about everyone else these days.

A google browser (not one branded Google, but one that embodied the spirit of google) would make using the web "just work".

managing bookmarks
managing RSS (etc.) feeds
managing histories
finding stuff related to what you are looking at now

and a whole heap of things most of us haven't thought yet.

Safari is a great browser, Opera is a great browser, Firefox is a great browser, but in essence, using them is not fundamentally different from using Netscape 1 or 2.

Google changed searching almost overnight. Google added almost unimaginable value to the web by making it much more manageable. It was a revolution, but on so subtle, it looked like they had just built a better mousetrap.

A google browser could be similarly revolutionary.

Interested in your thoughts on what a google browser might be.

September 22, 2004 | Permalink


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Don't worry, I wasn't the first either. John at WebWord had posted about it a year before me, and there were people before him. You get credit for thinking of it on your own just like the rest of us. :)

And the bigger point is that you're even *trying* to think about these things. The real hard part is doing something with all the ideas!

Posted by: Anil | Sep 24, 2004 7:04:28 AM


one of my many shortcomings is try as I may, I can't stop thinking about stuff. At times it drives those around me mad I am sure,


Posted by: John Allsopp | Sep 24, 2004 8:46:22 AM

John have always been impressed by your dreaming, and I would consider the kind of browser that Google could make as an excellent addition to my online tools, but the guy over at google watch, http://www.google-watch.org/bigbro.html, would probably disagree with us. Too quote my favourite Melbourne band (TISM) "Any comments Jeremy"

Posted by: Stuart | Sep 27, 2004 8:18:53 AM