Google has kicked off a new battle with Microsoft, and it’s borrowing a weapon from the computer giant’s own war chest. Users of Gmail, Google’s popular email service, are being told that older versions of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer are “unsupported,” and if they want to use all of Gmail’s features—and double its speed—they should switch to Chrome, which happens to be Google’s new browser.
Internet Explorer 6 users are reporting that when they sign into Google’s online email application, a “Get faster Gmail” message pops up in the menu bar. Clicking on it takes them to a page that promotes Chrome (which launched in September), and Firefox (which Chrome recently replaced in the Google Pack application bundle), saying the two browsers are “twice as fast” at running Gmail.
Observers are saying it sounds an awful lot like something Microsoft would do. “I think that Google has started to get too big for its britches, making the company look more like Microsoft did in the 1990s,” writes blogger Joe Wilcox on a tech news site. Back then, Microsoft successfully built up Internet Explorer from nothing by making it the most compatible browser with its Windows operating system.
So should Microsoft be nervous about Google breathing down its neck? Tim Simcoe, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business, says yes. Microsoft’s webmail currently has about 250 million users worldwide, more than double Gmail’s 100 million. But Gmail users went up by more than 40 per cent in the U.S. last year, while Microsoft saw a decline.
Gmail, then, could turn out to be a great platform to push Chrome, which is much more than just a browser. “It’s more like an operating system,” says Simcoe. “It’s part of the bigger push to move [a user’s] data and applications data onto the Web, as opposed to the computer. Microsoft ought to feel threatened.”
Perhaps all’s fair in a browser war. After all, Google’s motto is “Don’t be evil”—but being a little bit crafty helps.