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January 23, 2012

Emmett Dulaney: The genius of Google

ANDERSON, Ind. — Sometimes, when you encounter genius, you can do nothing but smile. The smile on my face this week ran from one ear to the other. To explain why, I need to give a bit of background information:

At one point in time, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser was the browser to use when on the Web. With market share in the 90 percent range, developers had to make certain that their applications ran in that browser or they risked losing any hope of an audience. While there were a number of alternative browsers available, most were tailored to one niche or another and dismissed by the masses. Microsoft was accused of unfair practices for bundling IE with every operating system and giving it away for free. They persisted in their practice, but made occasional concessions with both the Federal Trade Commission and the European Union.

Firefox came out and a great many lauded it as the Internet Explorer killer. Finally, it was proclaimed, there was a serious contender that worked on every platform and many viewed it as a superior product to IE, allowing it to gain noticeable market share. When Google released its own browser in 2008, named Chrome, many scratched their heads and wondered why the company would waste their time and efforts on such. Proving the naysayers correct, one year later Chrome only managed to obtain less than 5 percent of the market.

In the meantime, American businesses and institutions struggled with the recession. They cut back their IT budgets and made what resources they had last longer than they might in times of expansion. Microsoft had trouble convincing businesses — and even home users — to upgrade desktop operating systems from Windows XP to either Vista or Windows 7. In fact, even though Windows XP is now a decade old, it still amounts to close to 40 percent of the Windows operating systems in use today.

One of the ways Microsoft has tried to encourage purchases of the newer operating systems is by weaning out the support for XP in favor of the newer operating systems. Internet Explorer, for example, can only run through version 8 on Windows XP, while version 9 requires Windows Vista or Windows 7 to install.

So where does the genius come in? During the economic downturn, many found an immediate cost savings by doing away with their in-house email programs in favor of the free, customizable, version provided by Google.

 At Anderson University, for example, we — like so many other educational institutions — migrated to a customized version of Gmail branded as RavenMail. This week, I suddenly found that changes to RavenMail meant that I could no longer interact with it using IE 8. Since the institution-issued laptop runs Windows XP, I can’t upgrade to IE 9 and AU will not buy a new operating system for me to be able to access my email. The only suitable alternative is to switch from IE to Chrome: an alternative facing many of those in the 40 percent still using XP.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Chrome is now the second most popular browser in the world and IE’s market share is now down to only 40 percent. Chrome is also the only browser to offer desktop notifications for RavenMail, and a few other features that make it difficult to be without. Genius. Pure genius.

Columns from the Falls School of Business at Anderson University  appear Tuesdays in The Herald Bulletin.

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