Google, though, has much bigger ambitions. The goal, say Google execs, is not merely to win share of an existing market, but to change the very nature of Internet browsing—and the way we use computers. If Chrome works as planned, it will lead much of computing from the desktop—Microsoft's domain—toward remote data centers. These, in Google's lingo, are known as the "cloud." Google runs the biggest and most efficient data centers on earth, and moving much of the world's computing from desktops into its clouds is the heart of the company's strategy. "Google really believes the future of the Web is running applications on the Web," says Danny Sullivan, who runs Calafia Consulting, a Web consulting firm. "They want to be leading the charge."
As this battle commences, Microsoft enjoys a towering head start. Its Internet Explorer dominates the browser market, with 75% share. And Microsoft is launching its latest upgrade, IE8, which is loaded with new features. Google's Chrome, by contrast, appears bare-bones. Its power, say Google engineers, will come from its ability to run applications faster and more securely, especially those hosted outside the PC, on the cloud. Unlike Google's top-secret search algorithms or the proprietary software it uses to carry out its searches, Chrome was born as an open-source system.
To understand what's new, think of Netscape, the browsing sensation 14 years ago at the dawn of the World Wide Web. The goal back then was simply to open and read Web pages. This is still important, of course, whether Web surfers are reading a story in The New York Times or checking out a friend's home page on MySpace. Most browsers today, including Mozilla Firefox and Apple's (AAPL) Safari, have grown to provide that Web browsing service.
Google, though, wants people to use browsers to do much more, particularly to run software applications, like word processing, spreadsheets, video editing, and conferencing. In Google's scheme, the browser is a gateway into the clouds, one that will eventually be tapped from anywhere—a PC, a mobile phone, perhaps even a television. And many of the applications available in the clouds, from calendars to e-mail, will likely compete directly with Microsoft's dominant suite of Office applications, including Excel and Outlook. Says Google co-founder Sergey Brin: "What we have is a lightweight engine for running Web applications that doesn't have the baggage of an operating system." Investors on Sept. 2 drove up Google shares nearly 2%, to 465.25.