Google Chrome vs. Microsoft Windows: Browser Battle Escalates to OS War

Google unveiled its new Chrome browser and OS yesterday. Its ultimate aim? To make Microsoft’s market share monopoly sleep with the fishes.


Google unveiled its new Chrome browser and OS Tuesday. Its ultimate aim? To make Microsoft’s market share monopoly sleep with the fishes.

That piscine threat is especially relevant here. When Microsoft made the rounds touting its latest iteration of Internet Explorer, the team couldn’t stop showing off its “fishtank test,” a benchmark the company used to show off IE’s fast frame-rate and HTML5 support when processing a graphic of fish swimming. The test was intended to bash Chrome–videos and images of comparison tests were fluttered out into the blogosphere. In one test with 100 fish swimming, IE9 handled it at 60 FPS–Chrome at just 4 FPS.

Yesterday, Google responded in kind. At its unveiling of Chrome, the company showed off its FPS and HTML5 support with a fish tank–one that was far more graphically intense than Microsoft’s. Google created an interactive version of the fish tank and requested that audience members test it themselves following the presentation.


Beyond that implicit dig, Google’s new OS is a huge threat to Microsoft, albeit one that will not manifest for some time. Here’s why.


When Microsoft unveiled Internet Explorer 9 beta, its main aim was to create mobile-style apps on the desktop. The company hoped to see Web surfing evolve into a visually rich and interactive experience, enhanced by HTML5. Partners from Amazon to CNN created optimized platforms–apps that could be pinned to the Windows 7 taskbar, as accessible as iTunes or Microsoft Word.

Google’s new OS strips down that experience, creating a browser-based system that cuts out the Windows middleman. Rather than having to pin apps to the desktop, they appear in a browser, and are accessible from anywhere. The questions Google wants you to ask: Why do I need a desktop? Why do I need a Windows taskbar if I can access the same programs in-browser or on a different tab?

Google’s aim is to remove all the clunky back-end processing running behind the browser, eliminating the need to close or minimize Chrome.


The Cloud

So many Windows users are dependent on offline computing. We access our music, photos and documents in messy folders and hard drives. We install programs, we often rely on USB drives for transferring files, and we use desktop clients for email and chat.

Chrome OS users do not do that. Music can be streamed online. Photos are uploaded to Picasa or Flickr. Documents can be viewed in edited on Google Docs–not in Microsoft Office. Email and chat and social networking services are are accessible on the Web. Any other need, Google believes, can be satisfied through its Web store through any number of apps.

In other words, Chrome OS floats in the cloud. Windows does not.

I’m a PC


Microsoft dominates the PC market, boasting around a 91% market share for all client operating systems. Head to any big-name computer manufacturer–Dell, HP, Toshiba, Acer–and you’ll see a wide range of OS choices: Windows 7, Windows 7, and Windows 7. Perhaps Linux will show up on a few select models, but outside, Windows is the first and only choice of operating systems.

Google aims to change that. It’s important to note that the Chrome OS is not launching on Macs. By mid-2011, the system will be launching on Acer and Samsung computers, with other OEMs soon to follow. Expect all the big-names to join, especially for the netbook market. It’s not a good prospect for Microsoft: If you had the option between selecting a netbook OS, would you choose Microsoft or Google?

Business 101: Licensing, Security

Ordering licenses for Windows for an entire company can be expensive. Google promises its stripped-down OS will be “magnitudes different” in terms of ownership costs.

But that’s not the only saving that may appeal to businesses. IT and security costs are another significant burden the enterprise faces, and Google is aiming to eliminate much of that headache. As the company boasted Tuesday, the onus for updating has been on the user; Chrome is updated automatically.

Think about how many times you have to update Microsoft Office, or Internet Explorer, or Windows, in order to plug the latest security holes. Think about the IT costs of having to perform those upgrades for every employee–especially for small companies who do not have the necessary tech savvy. That’s the market Google targeted yesterday when boasting about how easy it is to upgrade Chrome, demonstrating the hassle of endless pop-up boxes one sees on a certain competitor’s OS.


Chrome is updated automatically every six weeks or so. There are no prompts asking whether or not you would like to install a security fix or a patch or a service pack. When the Chrome OS is on, it is the most up-to-date version, no matter what.

Of course, many businesses will continue to rely on Windows. Not every task can be done in the cloud or through Web apps. But for companies looking for an inexpensive, no-hassle approach to mobile computers–especially on netbooks–Google’s new OS could be a very appealing alternative to Microsoft.

We’re not saying Chrome is going to eat up Windows market share immediately. Though that is likely Google’s aim, it is not an overnight process. Chrome OS is ahead of its time, and it’ll be years before we see high adoption rates.

But for Microsoft, the Chrome OS is a warning sign. The Redmond giant cannot rest on its laurels forever.


About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.