What’s good for the Internet is good for Google, and the company says its strategic proposition for the newly introduced Chrome browser is: a better platform is needed to deliver a new generation of online applications.
What other companies have lately been trumpeting the same slogan? Microsoft through its browser plug-in Silverlight for .NET apps and Adobe through its browser plug-in Flash for Flex/AIR Rich Internet Applications.
Unlike Apple or Mozilla (which respectively rely on Safari and Firefox browsers without plug-ins) Microsoft and Adobe rely on proprietary plug-ins and runtimes to deliver across platforms what we’ve come to know as RIAs.
Chrome, party pooper
In jumps Google with Chrome. Not a plug-in. Not exactly another runtime. But a full-fledged browser. One that behaves, however, as a platform to host applications best tied to cloud computing with built-in local persistence for offline computing. Sure, in its current form Chrome can’t compete with Silverlight or Flex/AIR for what Adobe calls “expressiveness,” meme-speak for rich graphics, animations, integrated video and other visual UI goodies.
Who needs Adobe AIR then?
Not the millions of .NET developers around the world. Adobe had a narrow window of opportunity to convert this bulwark of enterprise app creators through Flex/AIR, but Microsoft neutralized that threat fairly quickly with Silverlight. Microsoft developers continue to use, for example, underpowered BizTalk for workflow or the hair-ball SharePoint for collaboration not because they are the best in their class, but because they are conveniently available to them and hook into most other Microsoft properties better than other apps. Silverlight has always been the presumed next step for .NET developers, and Adobe had no real hope of changing that fact in any substantial way with Flex/AIR. Adobe’s target has really been the non-Microsoft crowd, those who wanted to move from static websites to dynamic, data-driven web apps at the enterprise level.
Adobe had a head-start. The ubiquitous Flash begat Flex that begat AIR, the final key to uniting the desktop with the cloud, on- or off-line. At this point, Flex and AIR are the most advanced development and delivery platform for RIAs. They run on multiple OSes and are backed by a company that understands graphics. Had there been no Silverlight, Adobe could have posed a significant headache for Microsoft’s .NET constituency. Unfortunately for Adobe, that window of opportunity has been closing fast.
Chrome may shut it off for good. It’s possible that various open source Chrome technologies could melt into Safari and Firefox. But –– whether as a stand-alone product or a progenitor of fast, powerful and expressive browsers –– Chrome signals to anybody but the diehard Microsoft constituents that the browser itself, not a proprietary plug-in or a separate runtime, is the future of RIAs. With its huge ecosystem, Microsoft can live with that. At least until its enterprise monopoly seriously erodes. But Adobe cannot.
In a world where the online pie is divided among the .NET army of Microsoft, the browser-gang of Apple+Mozilla+Google, and the lone Adobe, it’s not difficult to predict whose share will shrink into insignificance. If the exclusion of Flash from the iPhone wasn’t a wake-up call for Adobe, Chrome should certainly be one.