First, there was Gmail. Is the Gbrowser next?
A Google Web browser is the latest in the never-ending speculation about what search leader Google Inc. is going to do next after raising $1.7 billion from its public offering.
The evidence: a spate of high-profile hires, Googles domain-name registration of the gbrowser.com name and a duo of Mozilla Foundation bug reports that name Google.
Following a New York Post story over the weekend about Googles potential jump into the browser wars, Weblogs and a series of media reports this week jumped into the fray.
The speculation about a Google browser dates back even further to July 2003, when bloggers first began posting theories that included a Mozilla-Google marriage.
While all of the signs appear to be compelling signals of an impending Google browser, each also could be explained as an indication of other moves. Search-engine experts and analysts differ on whether to take the browser speculation seriously, though they agree that Googles true post-IPO intentions remain as unclear as ever.
“Even a powerful brand like Google, if they come out with a browser, it would have to have some significant value to it, or an application to it to get people to move,” said Allen Weiner, a research director at Gartner Inc. “Its hard to imagine what that would be.”
Weiner said he doubts that the Google browser rumors are more than a trial balloon through which Google can gauge reaction. If anything, Google might provide a branded version of an existing browser, such as Mozillas open-source Firefox browser, he said.
A spokesman for Mountain View, Calif.-based Google declined to address the speculation and said the company has “not announced any plans in this area.”
Mozilla spokesman Bart Decrem also would not comment directly on the speculation.
“We talk to a broad range of companies about a broad range of topics, and Ill have to leave it at that,” he said.
What is clear is that Google has snagged major developers and engineers from such technology vendors as BEA Systems Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. Adam Bosworth in July left his position as chief architect and senior vice president at BEA to join Google. Bosworth is considered one of the top experts in Web services and, in previous roles, was part of the early development of Microsofts Internet Explorer.
Other recent Google newcomers include Joe Beda, who left Microsoft earlier this month as a lead developer on Longhorns “Avalon” presentation subsystem, and Joshua Bloch, who had been a distinguished engineer for Java at Sun.
While many of Googles new hires have strong backgrounds in browsers and Web development, they are also just as knowledgeable in areas such as Web services and application development.
Googles official reason for the new hires: “Were always looking for the greatest and brightest minds to join us.”
Google in April also registered gbrowser.com, according to the Whois database record. But companies regularly buy domain names to defend against poachers, and an application named gBrowser already exists. It is a Mac OS X-based browser and organizer for digital images.
Meanwhile, Google is mentioned in at least two different reports on Mozillas Bugzilla system. None, though, points definitively to work between the two organizations on a Google browser.
One, which is dated July 2003, when Google browser rumors first surfaced on a series of blogs, was made private this week. Another, dated earlier this month, deals with tabbed browser issues and was assigned to a Google engineer.
Decrem cautioned against reading much into the bug reports, noting that it is not unusual for a Bugzilla report to name another company or to be assigned to someone working for a technology vendor.
Browser as Gateway
Web developer Pinder Johal, who first reported on his Blogzilla blog about sighting Google in a Mozilla bug report, has his doubts. He said he would expect other types of applications, such as instant messaging, to be a bigger priority for Google.
“Theres nothing conclusive out there, but a lot of people are speculating,” Johal said. “Im still skeptical about it all. Other than an R&D type of thing, I dont think theyre going to launch something like they did with Gmail.”
Gmail is Google Web-based e-mail application that it launched as an invite-only beta in April.
While reading Googles tea leaves is always difficult, search-engine expert Danny Sullivan said it would make sense for Google to move into the browser space to tackle the coming competition from Microsoft.
Microsofts MSN division is working on its own algorithmic search engine and has said it would launch a desktop search product late this year. Likely more worrisome to Google are Microsofts hints that it will build search more directly into the operating system and potentially into the browser, Sullivan said.
“The browser is the gateway to the Web,” said Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Watch. “People have talked about search as the gateway, but search is the second gateway and the browser is the first gateway. If Google could control the browser, it gives them control from the get-go.”
Google already has started to move its search engine onto users desktops, but it piggybacks on Microsoft to do so. Its Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer puts its search query box front and center on the browser, while its Google Deskbar adds its Web search to the Windows taskbar.
“It makes sense for them to protect themselves for whatever might come down the line,” said Sullivan, who even floated the idea of Google version of the Linux operating system.
Sullivan said any Google browser effort likely would bring together the companys increasing number of services. Along with Gmail, Google runs the Orkut social-networking service, runs the Blogger service and is testing its next-generation e-mail list service, called Google Groups 2.
It also acquired Picasa Inc. in July, gaining an application for storing and sharing digital images that industry watchers said could be central to future desktop application plans.
Rather than worry about a browser, Google needs to think more like a media company and focus on extending its search—and its advertising programs—to more types of content beyond Web pages and into applications, Weiner said.
“The social networking stuff and IM stuff would be more compelling as immediate applications [for Google] than the browser,” Weiner said. “The browser to me, honestly, would be an ego thing.”