Binks Is Here

Commentary on the World

Is This A Good Thing?

Apparently Google is launching its own browser. It’s set to compete with Firefox and Internet Explorer.

The BBC article is pretty light on details (but the beta drops tomorrow, so we’ll see a flurry of posts all over the tech media then). It looks like they want Google Gears on steroids - that they’re not content to work through other people’s APIs, they want to reach into the PC on their own, directly.

I think it’s good to have innovation, but I’m afraid we might just wind up with “The Linux Problem” when it comes to browsers. “The Linux Problem” I’m referring to is, of course, the endless forks and customizations of Linux. You can’t just “Get linux” - you need to decide on Linux, then pick a distro, then pick whatever edition of a distro (eg. Debian Unstable VS Regular Debian), decide which endless bit of software you want (Firefox or the backported hacked up “Iceweasel”?), etc. etc. etc.

I hope I’m proven wrong here, but I wonder if there’s all that much room in the browser market. As it is, it seems to me, you’ve got two camps - the “I’ll use whatever came with my PC” camp, and the “I want a new browser” camp. That second group is only so big, and they’ve chosen Firefox in a big way. Sure, there’s Safari and Opera, but no one but a small few actually use them. When someone asks their tech friend, “What browser should I use?” the answer is usually “Firefox”. A big entry from a big player could screw that up.

Firefox was supposed to solve the “Feature bloat” problem with Plugins. You’d have a base, rock solid browser and then you could get Plugins for whatever special functionality you want. I’d be happier if Google hired a few programmers to work on Firefox full time (Probably some people are using FF as their 20% projects…) to build out the core, and then put in their own plugins to achieve their goals.

From a business standpoint, this Google decision worries me - the Mozilla foundation gets millions of dollars every year from Google for making it the default start page, and the default searchbar entry. It’s pretty clear that this is a donation as much as anything else (everyone would set their searchbar to default to Google on their own). Hopefully Google sees the value of a robust Firefox browser to get people to step away from IE. Otherwise, there’ll likely be a big upheaval in the future.