Yesterday, Ars Technica pointed us to Google’s Chrome strategy.
Google has revealed plans for a Chrome cloud service that will allow users to synchronize browser data with their Google accounts. The synchronization framework, which is still at an early stage of development, will arrive in Google’s open source Chromium project later this week.
The relevant design document on Chromium Developer Wiki offers some insight into their plans
A library that implements the client side of our sync protocol, as well as the Google server-side infrastructure to serve Google Chrome users and synchronize data to their Google Account.The goals for this protocol include:
- Store/sync user’s bookmarks in a way that may be extended to additional data types.
- Allow the user to connect to the server from multiple clients simultaneously.
- Changes the user makes in one client should be immediately reflected in other clients connected to the server.
- Allow the user to make changes to her bookmarks even if the server is unreachable, such that changes made while offline are synced with the server at a later time.
- Resolve bookmark data conflicts on the client without prompting the user.
- Provide a web interface to access stored / synced bookmarks, likely via the docs.google.com doclist.
- Standards compliant (e.g xmpp) client/server messaging.
Essentially, they start with the bookmark synchronization and, eventually, leverage it to support other Google products. This post is not about the above announcement but a take on Google’s strategy with browser and what other SaaS vendors can learn from it.
When Google started off as a search engine with a goal to organize world’s information, it was clear that their path is through SaaS. They realized that as long as Microsoft’s Internet Explorer remains the king in the browser market, they are at the risk of getting dislodged by Microsoft any time. They also realized that there won’t be any traction if they release a proprietary browser of their own. They understood the power of open source marketing message and recruited some of the Firefox developers while, also, helping Firefox grow by offering them a way to monetize. Firefox gained a respectable marketshare and helped remove the subconscious association of browser with IE in the minds of users. They, then, tapped the Firefox developers and other Google developers to release their own open source browser called Chrome. The idea behind Chrome is simple. Just use the browser to make Google services attractive to the users. By pushing their own browser at a time when Microsoft’s position in the browser market is getting weaker and weaker every day, Google is trying to cement their position for the future. A widespread adoption of Google Chrome (Chromium) puts Google in a position to achieve what some pundits would like to call as world domination (whatever it may mean). In short, Google wants to do a Microsoft of SaaS era but by using the mantra of open source.
Therein lies the difference between the desktop era and SaaS era. Microsoft’s forceful tactics combined with the proprietary technology offered little or no room for their competitors to gain control over the OS, the key element in the desktop marketplace. This is not the case in the SaaS world. The browser marketshare is mixed, with open source browsers steadily climbing up. This offers a great opportunity for SaaS vendors to jump in and ensure that they don’t lose out to a big player like Google. It is time for the SaaS vendors to focus on browser development along with the development of their own app. Ignoring the happenings on the browser front will be at their own peril.
SaaS vendors can ensure the protection of their interests in two ways
- By embracing completely open protocols and formats so that their app is fully supported by these browsers
- More importantly, they should work closely with the developers of all open source browser projects. An even better option is to join the open source browser projects by either hiring one of these volunteer developers or by letting some (at least one) of their own employees to spend part of their work time to contribute code to these browser projects. This not only offers them a chance to ensure complete compatibility with their apps, they could also put some framework that might actually enhance their app’s user experience much like what Google is doing with their sync protocol in Chromium. The greatest advantage of open source projects is their respect for meritocracy. If anyone contributes substantial amount of code to the project, they get a chance to guide the direction of the project as other developers listen carefully to them. This advantage can be leveraged by the SaaS vendors to make sure that their turf is protected and no single vendor gains monopoly power in the market
If there is a time for SaaS vendors to keep the marketplace competitive and fair, it is now. It is the time for all SaaS vendors, big and small, to spend reasonable amount of their resources to these open source browser projects. That is the only way they can make sure that their competitors don’t get undue advantage in the marketplace using the leverage they have on key elements like browser.