NZ SaaS providers welcome Chrome as 'game changer'

Google's Chrome browser, currently in beta, could be more than a tool to get to the internet, it has the potential to change the way we use computers, according to local online software suppliers and analysts.

Chrome is not just a browser; what Google has done is it has taken the browser out of the web, says North Canterbury SaaS analyst and blogger Ben Kepes. With its minimalist design, all you see is the application itself -- it's an "invisible browser," he says.

Chrome is the first step in moving towards a world where we don't need operating systems at all, he says.

"Should Microsoft be worried? Very much so," says Kepes.

SaaS advocate Xero's Rod Drury calls Chrome "a real game-changer." He says that businesses will need to change fundamentally to keep up with the move towards applications and services.

An interesting aspect is to put Chrome in context with developments in the PC hardware space, says Drury. If everything is on the cloud, the amount of disk space needed is reduced. As a result, the cost of computing will also be dramatically reduced, he says. The focus on the desktop PC will change and the PC basically becomes a chip and a screen running Linux and Chrome, he says.

Another local SaaS provider says that as more businesses and home users shift to on-demand computing -- whether that be SaaS applications, gaming or social networking -- the browser will become increasingly central to their activities.

Assuming that Chrome's functionality, speed and user interface will be virtually identical across Windows, Linux and Mac OS X, this does reduce the relevance of users' operating systems, says Bruce Carley, marketing manager of Auckland-based ProjectPartner.

"Browsers are not operating systems though, so users will still need to choose one... and in the absence of more compelling grounds to form a preference, free open source options are destined to take over from expensive proprietary systems," says Carley.

Operating systems really aren't necessary anymore, Kepes says. "Ninety percent of what I do, I do within the browser," he says.

The trend towards the browser is driven by consumers and moves up towards the enterprise, says Kepes. Consumers have been doing SaaS for years, using applications such as YouTube, Gmail and Flickr. These technologies are now coming into play in businesses, he says.

Kepes reckons that within the next couple of years, using these consumer-driven SaaS technologies will become mainstream within the enterprise.

"We are not there yet," he says. "At the moment, the majority of the world is still working using installed software, but once you get to a critical mass, changes start happening," he says.

Traditional software businesses will have to change, he says.

"The question is, can an old-world company, built on installed software, change to this new paradigm, this new way of thinking," Kepes says.

Chrome has benefits in being very fast, but there are potential concerns in that Google owns both the browser and search. "Google will tailor the browser towards what they do," he says.

There is a balance between privacy and fast search and a great experience, he says.

Carley says Chrome is already compliant with most standards web designers and SaaS developers expect. "And its open source nature means that it'll quickly improve in this area -- and probably drive exciting new standards too."

Google released the Chrome beta for Windows last month. Versions for Mac and Linux are under development. However, software company CodeWeavers has already created a Linux and Mac port of Chrome and released it for free.

Chromium is the open source project behind Google Chrome, which is released under the BSD licence.

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