The tech industry is buzzing with rumors that search engine giant Google might be developing an Internet browser, with the speculation fueled by the company’s recent hiring of former Microsoft employees as well as other factors.
As part of a surge of hiring in the wake of its recent blockbuster IPO, Google hired three new employees with impressive browser-development credentials, including two former Microsoft employees, one of whom helped design the dominant Internet Explorer (IE) browser, and a former Sun Microsystems engineer who worked on enhancements to Java.
Separately, Google laid claim to a domain name — gbrowser.com — earlier this year, and one if its employees recently applied for a patent to cover technology for delivering advertising to Web users through browsers.
Also, in a sign some say indicates Google might seek to buy an existing browser or simply work to make improvements to it as a way to battle IE, Google used its Silicon Valley headquarters to host the Mozilla Developer Day, a chance for software engineers to work face-to-face on improvements to that company’s open-source browser.
For its part, Google has remained mum on the rumors. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Google has repeatedly taken the stance that it won’t comment on products that it might be developing. By most accounts, scores of potential products or enhancements are being developed by Google at any given time.
The rumors come at a time when it appears that consumers are ready for alternatives to IE.
The recently released Firefox browser has proved enormously popular, with the Mozilla Foundation announcing yesterday that users have downloaded more than 1 million copies of its preview release within 100 hours of it being made available.
Meanwhile, according to Web analytics firm WebSideStory, Internet Explorer use has been in decline of late. IE use fell from more than 95 percent of all Web page activity in June to around 93 percent this month.
One likely cause of the dropoff is stern security warnings about IE. In June, the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (USCERT) urged consumers and businesses to stop using IE until Microsoft produced patches to fix known security flaws. Microsoft has said that its Service Pack 2, now available, patches many of the known holes.
Building a browser, or enhancing a browser to make search a central and intuitive part of the entire Web surfing experience, could become a defensive move for Google. Microsoft, which for some time has been promising to roll out an improvedalgorithmic search engine and other search tools, has made it clear that it has its eyes on the next step for search.
Try and Try Again
Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li told the E-Commerce Times that Google made its name in the search market by developing superior technology and knows it can extend its reach into other markets by doing the same, particularly in areas where existing technology leaves consumers wanting more.
“Google’s leaders believe it’s no-boundaries philosophy is what got it to the top and what will keep it there in the long-run,” Li said. “It was obvious throughout their IPO process that they want to be a different company. Being willing to experiment and break down boundaries is a key part of that.”
Not that browsers are a stretch for Google. It has had a browser plug-in available to place Google search boxes directly on the desktop or the browser window for some time. “It’s not uncharted territory for them,” Li added.
Just Say No?
Despite all those reasons, the rumors remain just that and reflect a desire of the tech community outside Google to connect various known, but not necessarily related, dots, Jupiter Research analyst Gary Stein said.
The Mozilla event likely reflects a desire by Google to attract potential employees to its campus, Stein said, and the hiring moves that some say show a browser bent may simply seem related because Google hires the best engineers, and the best software engineers are likely to have worked on the most widely used applications, such as browsers and Java.
Another reason the rumors may not pan out, he added, is that Google might not want to take on the trouble of building and then maintaining a browser of its own, even one built on an existing foundation such as Mozilla.
“Browsers are a bother,” Stein said. In order to compete with IE, Google would need to gain access to a similar distribution network — IE comes loaded on virtually all off-the-shelf PCs. “Every little bug and security flaw in IE makes the front page. Right now, Google is immune to that. Why would they want to take that risk on?”