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Google and Microsoft Struggle for Power Over the Web

John Simkin

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Google opened up another front in its battle with Microsoft last night, with the surprise launch of a new web browser to add to its growing list of applications.

The search giant said Chrome had been created to better handle interactive applications and resource-hungry web pages such as video clips and online games. It is also less likely to crash, it claimed.

A test version of the browser will be available for download later today.

Analysts said Chrome, which was announced at the same time as new YouTube-like video communications services from Google, could take market share from Microsoft's Internet Explorer, as well as other browsers such as Opera and Firefox.

Details of Chrome were rushed out last night after someone at Google accidentally sent a comic book announcing the browser to a website that tracks the company.

In a blog posting late last night, Google said its engineers had decided to "completely rethink the browser" because the web has evolved from offering mainly simple text pages to rich, interactive applications.

"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," said Sundar Pichai, VP product management, and Linus Upson, engineering director.

Early reaction from bloggers and industry analysts was broadly positive.

Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates, said Chrome would help attract computer users to Google's range of web-based applications.

"This gives Google another opportunity to protect its flank and to create a new branding position,'' said Kay.

"We like this move by Google and believe it can help to increase or at least maintain its leading search market share."

Needham & Co analyst Mark May said the move would allow Google to claim a significant slice of "online real estate".

"The market share gains by Firefox in a short period of time show to us that users are looking for better browser experiences," he said.

Chrome is open-source, meaning developers can access and make changes to its underlying source code. Typically for a Google offering, it is available in test format as a beta.

Like other browsers it offers tabbing, letting the reader keep multiple web pages open. But with Chrome each tab runs as a separate process, so the applications should be more stable and secure.

"By keeping each tab in an isolated 'sandbox', we were able to prevent one tab from crashing another and provide improved protection from rogue sites," said Pichai and Upson.

According to recent figures, Internet Explorer has around 58% of the browser market, followed by Firefox with 19%. Google dominates the search market, with around 64.1% of all searches in August.

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