If Google got a haircut, a tie and a suit, would it be Microsoft?
Nobody ever got fired for downloading Chrome. Hmm
Prepare yourself. It's a new month, and that can only mean a tsunami of articles on the popularity of Internet Explorer, Chrome and Firefox will flood the globe's news aggregators.
For non-mobile computers, March followed the trend emerging over the past 12 months: growth for Chrome, a drop in use of IE and Firefox stuck in a rut. Opera isn't doing great, either.
Microsoft has long fretted and sweated the significance of its web browser: it crushed Netscape back in the day, and welded IE to the Windows operating system, to achieve near total domination of the market in the 1990s.
Since that high-water mark, though, IE's slice of the pie has done nothing but shrink month after month.
But that's not the end of the world to Redmond: IE's still got businesses locked down, right? That's the place where companies run Windows and corporate apps run in Internet Explorer, even versions as old as IE6.
Not for much longer. Google's Chrome is also breaking IE's stranglehold on workplace browsing, and the web advertising giant is touting its browser to businesses using Google Apps.
Startup Browsium helps shift businesses from legacy browsers to newer ones; its Catalyst package allows employees to use tried-and-tested web apps hardwired for IE6 and more recent builds of IE alongside its rivals - allowing workers to use modern web features without losing access to software critical to the business.
Browsium said every discussion it's had in the last six months with its customers has been about using Catalyst with Chrome in addition to IE. Not one discussion involved Firefox. The small biz, run by ex-Microsoft bods, told The Reg no one it has spoken to has made Chrome the primary office web browser - that honour still rests with IE - but plenty are rolling out two browser brands on corporate desktops.
Some Catalyst customers, for instance, are now running Internet Explorer 6 and Chrome - using the former for internal apps and the latter to go beyond the outer firewall.
It's happening so much that Browsium is now working closely with Google, we're told. As a startup with a Windows heritage, the small company initially concentrated its resources on businesses stuck with insecure and out-dated versions of Microsoft's browser. It takes a lot for a startup to divide its efforts.
Where Internet Explorer 6 staggers on, Windows XP gropes through the darkness not far behind
IE6 is glued to Windows XP; it won't work on more recent versions of Microsoft's desktop operating system - and after 8 April, 2014 Microsoft won't provide any more support for XP. Yet, a hard core of customers still don't know what's coming, and are unprepared for the platform change or the rewriting of corporate software that'll accompany it.
Companies could use the upheaval to seize Chrome and Google's suite of services: Gmail, in-browser apps and online storage space on Google Drive. British broadcaster ITV is one such new user. Google tells its clients to ditch IE and go Chrome. And the web advertising behemoth is forcing the pace: since the arrival of IE 10, Google Apps no longer supports IE 8.
"They've decided getting Chrome adopted in the enterprise is very important to Google," Browsium president and chief operating officer Gary Schare told The Reg. "They are telling enterprise customers: we want you to run Google apps, but we want you do it in Chrome."
Nobody was fired for buying IBM, er, downloading Chrome
Cyrus Mistry, a senior product manager on Google's Chrome team, confirmed the Chocolate Factory's party line.
"Google's stance is we support two versions of IE and Firefox. We say: 'If you are good app customers, we recommend Chrome for the HTML5 support'," Mistry told The Reg.
This is exactly the same strategy Microsoft used for years: it claimed that, to get the best from one piece of Redmond gear, you really needed another piece of Microsoft software. Often that was Windows and Internet Explorer.
Companies may want to stick with Microsoft because they feel safer in the hands of CEO Steve Ballmer; it's a big company that rolls out fixes for its software; it provides management tools; and it has a roadmap that demonstrates its long-term commitment.
Nobody was fired for buying IBM technology, or so the saying goes. The same went for Microsoft - and is it the case now for Google? Thanks to the runaway success of Google's advertising system, Google's name is not exactly identified with business - it's seen as something for the consumer.
And like every other web service provider today, when it comes to management tools and a development roadmap you're pretty much on your own: you take the roadmap and any other details you can when they are published on a blog.
Google also comes with a certain amount of baggage, too: can you really trust Chrome to not pass your activities to Mountain View to prime Google's search and advertising algorithms? It's a question that has kept some businesses out of the web giant's reach.
"As a product manager, I have to dispel myths - even basic things," Mistry told The Reg. "A marketing effort is underway to understand what Google can do inform management from an enterprise policy perspective."
Mistry said Chrome packs in 150 management controls so administrators can, for example, turn off tab synching and automatic updates - the latter being a process that magically fetches and installs the latest build of Chrome whether one wants it or not. It's the ability to stop IE automatically upgrading that makes IT departments feel safer: it gives admin bods the power to test new versions of the browser with their corporate-critical apps before rolling them out, averting potential disasters caused by incompatibilities. The inability to disable auto-updates in Chrome a "big misconception", Google told us.
The project manager reckons Google is serious about providing enterprise-class support, and has "dozens" of "dedicated" engineers in three offices working on "enterprise features" in Chrome.
"We do more than pick up the phone and give help," Mistry said.
"We have front and back line - people file tickets, get engineers involved, provide escalation. One of the areas where we are better than other browser makers is that every single customer can see the status of every issue. Chrome not a locked-down black-box browser that updates once every two to three years. I see companies commenting on bug fixes and thanking our engineers."
What of the privacy debate: how much does Google do to hoover up web data to build profiles on office employees, if at all?
"We are extremely cautions about privacy. People think Google knows what is Chrome doing - Google doesn't," he countered. With a business built squarely on ads and search, and figuring out what you are interested in, doubters will take more convincing.
Chrome is evolving. Google's free cross-platform web browser is slowly becoming what Internet Explorer was to Microsoft: a gateway to other products and services from the company. This time it's Google Drive; under Microsoft it was Windows Update and MSN. Is Google becoming the new Microsoft? Redmond developed robust management tools and serious support imparted over the phone.
Time will tell whether Google's model is to enterprises' tastes, whether Google must improve the way it sells its browser's capabilities and controls, and whether it will need to become even more like Microsoft. ®