By Craig Buckler

How Can Google Chrome Become More Popular?

By Craig Buckler

Google ChromeGoogle’s recent survey in Times Square, New York, revealed a number of interesting facts:

  1. Fewer than 8% of people know what a browser is. Many confuse it with a search engine or a company.
  2. The majority of users do not know or care which browser they’re using. It’s simply an icon they click to access the web.
  3. Hardly anyone had heard of Chrome.

Chrome, the Google-branded web browser, has been available since September 2008. It’s known for its clean, minimalistic interface, quick rendering speed, anonymous browsing facilities, and high stability. Each tab is handled by a separate process, so a single page crash does not bring down the whole application.

It’s undoubtedly a great browser and has gained a 2 – 5% market share within its first year. However, it’s difficult to determine how many non-technical users have been attracted to Chrome. Web developers certainly use it, but Google’s survey suggests that it’s yet to achieve mainstream awareness.

Google — if you’re listening — here are my suggestions to increase Chrome’s adoption rate.

1. Change the name
“Chrome” is a clever and geeky name, but it means absolutely nothing to most people. I suspect few people in the IT industry understand the significance. Google has a history of naming applications after their function (docs, maps, email, etc.), and their browser should be no exception, e.g.

  • Google Internet
  • Google Web
  • G-Internet
  • or even just “Google” since that’s the first page most users open.

2. Get it on user desktops
The vast majority of users will only use Chrome if it’s already installed for them. Google should therefore:

  1. Do deals with PC manufacturers and software producers.
  2. Offer Chrome as an optional extra with related software, such as Google Desktop.
  3. Promote the browser on Google-owned websites. A Chrome download link is already shown for IE6/7 visitors to (not IE5/5.5 though?), so the program could be extended to sites such as YouTube. Google needs to be careful with heavy-handed advertising, but a single opt-out click could apply across every site.

3. Keep the browser simple
Let’s cut the pretense. Google has one primary objective: to beat Microsoft and Internet Explorer. Many users have no reason to switch from IE, so Google should concentrate on persuading them that Chrome is easy to install, simpler, and faster to use. Security and stability are a bonus but, since so few IE users knowingly experience problems, those factors should not be part of the main marketing message.

I’m not against Google improving the browser with features such as add-ons, but most users will never care about or use those facilities. If an option results in additional complexity (even an extra menu item), Google should seriously reconsider its implementation.

Developers and power users already have Firefox and Opera so matching the feature sets found in those browsers may convert a proportion of IT-literate users. However, perhaps it would be better if Google targeted Chrome at the 92% of people who do not know what a browser is.

See also: What is a Web Browser? No One Knows!

Do you have any other ideas? Can Google persuade people to drop IE? Will Chrome just take market share from other browsers?

  • anon

    The most important obstacle preventing me to install Chrome is not its name – it’s the fact that it phones home all the time. As long as this is not stopped by default I don’t care a hoot about how small or fast or brilliant in any other way it is.

  • Dan Wellman

    Google definitely need to work on an easy way for non-technical users to install add-ons that will be commonly required, and it should bundle a few common ones with it. Currently Chrome does not come with a built in flash plugin, so some types of content will not run on the browser, including youtube videos embedded using an

    A flash plugin can be installed but the procedure would probably put off non-technical users.

    Good article, thanks :D

  • PaulRG

    I take you points in the post but still have to ask “Do we need it?” Having tried it I didn’t notice anything outstanding over Firefox so why bother changing.
    I need more reasons to learn something else after feeling comfortable with the browser I’m already using. “Faster” and “easier” just don’t float my boat unless qualified with 200% or something.

  • davidcroda

    Honestly, they fall short on courting power users too. I desparately want to love chrome, but I keep having to switch back to firefox because it just CANNOT match the functionality of firefox + addons.

  • Andrew

    Maybe they can start a campaign where you can find treasure online by only using… Oh wait, that has been done before.

  • TommiChi

    For some subjective reason, there is something really gratifying about using Chrome.

    Maybe the fact that it feels so minimalist and “clean” brings about a certain peace of mind (and yes, it is blazing fast).

    That said, I still use Firefox/IE8 as my main browsers mainly because a number of sites don’t play nice with Chrome (rendering issues, stability issues).

    Maybe I should fuse Trident with Webkit, develop my own browser and call it “The Internet”. Who knows, maybe that’s all it takes to grab the lion’s slice in market share….

  • zoliky

    I miss Firebug and Adblock Plus in Chrome.

  • Michael Houghton

    The naming suggestions are disastrous. You seem to be arguing against educating users about how things work, by suggesting the use of even more confusion-prone names.

    Instead of spending money changing their browser’s name to reflect the fact that only 8% of New Yorkers know what a web browser is, perhaps Google should spend some money on a campaign that explains what a web browser is? It would benefit everyone.

    They could also spend some money repeating the survey in other countries; I’m far from convinced that public education efforts on this are equal worldwide.

  • furto

    @zoliky those are the two reasons im still with firefox, I would love to use chrome or the new safari.

  • just_passing_by

    As long as Chrome keeps sending user behaviour data back to Google all the time I cannot be bothered to even give it a try. Google should stop using their browser to garner information about its users. Maybe that would make it popular, if it’s all that great that is.

  • jmtsilva

    Chrome is a great browser and maps todays WEB2.0 complexity, it’s so simple :). Yet, a plug-in architecture is a must to get developers using it in an development environment. I use chrome in my day life as a surfer and firefox for web development. Nice ideas to get chrome rocking in the web ;)

  • Benjamin Dobson

    @zoliky @furto,
    Many people have been finding WebKit’s Web Inspector—in both Safari and Chrome—to be good enough to replace Firebug. No ABP though.

    On the Mac, I use Safari. It simply fits best with the Mac workflow, and has all the features I need. When I’m browsing the web, I like to focus on the content. Because that’s the point.

    On Windows, I use Chrome. It’s sleek, minimalist, fast and the only thing I don’t like is the lack of address bar in full screen mode.

  • Great suggestions. I like the first suggestion in particular – in this marketplace, it’s vital to have a sensible name which is also easy to remember for the non-developers. I would change the name from Chrome to Google Browser or Google Surfer.

  • maelzx

    i use chrome, then i dont use chrome, i dont miss chrome.

    but firefox, when it’s not around i miss it… (or him).

    so i think, personally chrome need to stay around a little bit longer to make people really know it and have “feeling” towards it.

  • dc

    the web kit javascript console just doesnt come close to firebug, sure it looks nice and stuff but in terms of usability firebug isn’t going to be dislodged any time soon

  • israelisassi

    I use Chrome much more than IE and FF. I mostly use IE when visiting the MS Partner Program site because they require it. I use FF only for Firebug.

    In the case of Chrome I think part of what’s hurting it is the marketing effort or lack of it. Even when I go to using IE, I don’t see any reference to Chrome on the home page, although that may be because I have Chrome installed.

    Developer tools would be a great move, although they do need to market to the general public as well.

    They don’t have to make a better browser than IE, FF, or Opera, but they should at least try to get it out there.

    Many years ago I heard someone at Novell say the mistake they made was marketing to Dilbert while Microsoft marketed to Dilbert’s boss.

  • We need to remember that SitePoint users are technically-literate and will always want more powerful tools in Chrome. However, I still believe that Google should not add those features if it makes the browser more complex for the vast majority of normal users.

    Power users already have plenty of choice so perhaps Google shouldn’t pander to Chrome’s loudest critics. Google have an opportunity to make Chrome a browser for the people and help them switch from IE6.

  • anon

    Since launch they have strung Mac users along. Not a huge portion of the community, but a very vocal one in terms of technology adoption.

  • I don’t see chrome being big ever. If you want features then you get Firefox, if you want speed, stability and lightweight (in terms of resources used) then you (should) use Opera.

    I see the browser market in two separate parts. Feature packed browsers (Firefox and Opera… although Opera lacks descent addon support) and simple (maybe too simple?) browsers like Safari and Chrome. Oh and shit ones… Internet Explorer.

    Another thing I have noticed about browsers is the stupid naming. Internet Explorer is the only decently named browser! Safari? Chrome? Opera?? Firefox? I can’t think of something worse to name some software then Opera. I have recommend Opera to friends and they won’t download it just because its stupid name. I mean how could you take something seriously when it is called Opera? Or even Safari. Firefox and Chrome don’t seem as bad but that’s probably because I’m a web developer and know about all the browsers. No wonder people don’t know what a browser is…

  • Haven’t you ever looked at a non-computer-literate’s web browser?

    It’s always got a stack of 5 toolbars taking up half the screen. Yet at least one of ’em they installed on purpose (the rest probably came bundled with other software), and they wouldn’t be able to use that with Chrome.

    Given Internet Explorer will get automatically updated with any security fixes through Windows Update, while Chrome would not, it’s not advisable for anyone computer illiterate to be using it in the first place.

  • Okay yes, this is exactly what *any* web browser needs to do in order to gain mainstream adoption. The only thing here that relates to Google Chrome is renmaing the application. Getting pre-installed in PCs is what Firefox and Opera need to do as well.

  • Galen

    Gweb would be a really cool re-name.

  • Just as Google has had success with Android as a platform, due it it’s ease of use syncing with Google products, I think that a tigher integration of Google products with Chrome could be the answer to getting it adopted.

    I could see something similar to Firefox’s “Awesome Bar” where one could type a query like “youtube: sitepoint” to get taken directly to YouTube search results for SitePoint. Or some kind of “live tab” that keeps the user connected to GMail, with unobtrusive notification bubbles at the bottom of the window (similar to Growl on a Mac) to let a user know when a new mail comes in, or a new message via Google Chat, etc. Once Google Wave goes live, I think Chrome will become more popular if Google makes it the next Flock, by offering a version of Chrome that hooks directly into Wave while you browse.

  • First stop… about the name… how about “Google Explorer” or “G-Explorer”? Since users are familiar with the program “Internet Explorer” (even though they don’t know it’s called a “browser”), so naming a browser something similar should make some users say to themselves “Is that something like Internet Explorer, but only for Google? Hmm… let’s give it a spin… (later on) oh look, you can look at other sites as well!”.

    I don’t completely agree with the toolbar comment. Most users download programs they need, and just click “Next”, “Next” when installing, and without looking. I’ve seen many Windows installations, and everytime I see any toolbar (Google Toolbar included), I ask “Do you use this?”. 99% of the time, the answer is “No… what’s that?”, after which I say “Nevermind” (and uninstall it). The other 1% use Google Toolbar (only!) willingly, and since G-Explorer is, by definition, from Google, they’d be fine without Google Toolbar, as long as all (or the most popular) functions somehow get integrated into it.

    About the normal vs techie users… “normal” users don’t install a browser, but use whatever the techie installs. Therefore, if a browser appeals to techies, it will be sure to have a higher market share. At the same time, techie users currently install Firefox, so… the best thing any browser can do is steal Firefox’s market share.

    I think one thing all non-IE browsers miss is the part where most of IE’s market share lies – corporations. Remember the “Get the FUD” campain? One thing (perhaps the only thing) that was 100% true was the “manageability” line. Indeed, IE is a breeze to install and adjust in a “Windows domain” environment, whereas other browsers are hell to install, and (nearly?) impossible to adjust by the IT admin. AFAIK, Windows does provide APIs for applications to integrate into its Windows domain structure, but the app still needs to actually use those APIs. Browser vendors are cautios of using such APIs, as it means the browser is no longer portable OR that they need to write special code to make sure IT admin settings will get honored without accidently making the browser less secure (imagine your preferences being taken away from someone other than the IT admin…).

  • I agree with the first poster, I cannot trust a browser that sends off personal information to google without my permission.

  • dougoftheabaci

    Having a Mac version would help things a bit… I’m just saying…

  • ravi_k47

    I had started to use chrome day after it was launched. It is good as far as a web developer is concerned. t offers great speed when compared to FF3. It has several problems. We don’t know what version we’re going to install till we launch the browser. Also the registry has some problems upgrading the beta versions. memory crashing. I have dumped chrome and its more than a hype. It can nerver compete against FF3 for at least maybe 10yrs :P. With the web becoming more networked chrome should not be be going for a so called “simple browser”.But i still use it coz sometimes it’s just faster.

  • Chrome needs to have the same Addon support as Firefox otherwise no techy would really consider completely switching to them. If Chrome had an Addon import like the Flock browser, then I think Chrome could do exceptionally well.

  • I stopped using Chrome as a browser when I found out it created a new, giant, memory sucking process for every tab it opened. Get four to five tabs going and there is a noticable reduction in performance…

  • @ferrari_chris: In this $10-per-GB world, I consider that a feature. It means when a tab crashes (as has happened to me a few dozen times over months of use), only that tab crashes, really. And Flash has a tendency to crash occasionally, but Flash cotent is started in its own process as well, which can be separately killed and restarted.

  • I just don’t need it, and see it as stealing market share from Firefox. I’m not 100% happy with Firefox, but at this point I think it has extensions that I can’t live without. If Chrome could just do more for me, or do what I need to have done, and do it better, then I’d give it a shot.
    Also, comment #1 makes a valid point against using it at all.

  • Stevie D

    As long as Chrome keeps sending user behaviour data back to Google all the time I cannot be bothered to even give it a try. Google should stop using their browser to garner information about its users. Maybe that would make it popular, if it’s all that great that is.

    I don’t think that that’s the major stumbling block. The majority of people wouldn’t care less about what data Google collects about them – they already use Google search, mail, maps, docs and who knows what else. The reason they aren’t using Chrome is because they don’t know (a) that it exists, (b) what it does, or (c) that it is better than Internet Explorer.

    Another thing I have noticed about browsers is the stupid naming. Internet Explorer is the only decently named browser! Safari? Chrome? Opera?? Firefox?

    And what were the early web browsers called? Amaya. Netscape. Mosaic. Lynx. How many other products, with the possible exception of a couple of popular word processors have a name that fully explains their purpose in two neat words? A brand name is a brand name, it’s a name that people come to associate with a particular product, service, range or theme. Why is “google” associated with searching the internet? It sure as heck is nothing to do with its name. Web browsers need names that are catchy, not that blandly describe their utilitarian function – that’s boring, and nobody will remember them.

  • koyama

    “so the program could be extended to sites such as YouTube”
    There is in fact a download link for Chrome on YouTube:

    I agree with PaulRG. It has taken me years of training to become a skilled Firefox user. Start all over again with Chrome? It need to be more than just slightly better for this effort to pay off.

    The second show stopper is add-ons. I am using 19 add-ons in Firefox. Now, how many of these can I get for Chrome?

  • sitehatchery

    The only thing I use chrome for it Gmail. Firefox is intermittently and often VERY slow in gmail. Sometimes I think gmail has designed it’s application to not work as well in Firefox. It’s much faster in Chrome… but I can’t say that chrome is faster on other websites.

  • Michael

    I will only switch to chrome permanently when i can get all firefox extensions also on chrome

    also im on ubuntu and the current development snapshot is not even close to being usable

  • perpetual_dream

    They should reinstate the Google Adsense referral program and include Google Chrome in it. This way they will have hundreds of thousands of publishers marketing it for them.

  • Day-to-day Chrome is my default browser now. It’s just significantly faster then anything else. However, a couple of times a day I need to open Firefox to use Firebug or GMail manager. I’ve also greasemonkeyed a few sites to work better and I miss that with Chrome.

    Adding those things would help me stay out of Firefox, but wouldn’t change Joe Sixpack’s view.

    I think they would do best to market it as part of their ‘ultimate service’. You like Google Search? You like Youtube?? You like Google Maps? You like GMail? Click here to download them right to your desktop and have them run TWICE as fast!! (Oh and BTW you can even browse the web with it!!) Something like that.

    Users *understand* the value of Google Search and GMail and Maps, so they have a better chance of understanding why they’d want to download a thing that runs them better.

    After all, millions of people downloaded Google Earth — not for the app, but for the content it ran.

  • Justin Ryan

    My perspective on developing with Chrome seems to be quite opposite the norm. Instead of complaining about the lack of support for add-ons/plug-ins in Chrome, it would seem to me that some of you “developers” need to reevaluate your dependence on extraneous goodies.

  • ravi_k47

    @AlexW Google mania including gears, chrome and google desktop can risk ur privacy :P

  • I think renaming it would be a good idea, particularly for Australia where people who sniff solvents are known as ‘chromers’.

  • biswa

    Rome was not built in a day. So, it’s take time to capture market share. This is not easy task for google people. Because, why I am going to use Chrome?suppose if i start use this first Ii have to learn this ,but to-days busy schedule most people don’t want to invest time in alternate things.

  • @boen_robot
    I second your point about creating a corporate browser installation SDK. I don’t think it’s necessarily difficult to install other browsers across PCs, but configuring and locking them down is another matter. Mozilla are working on a solution but, so far, only Microsoft cater for the corporate market.

  • Anonymous

    After installing Chrome with Windows for the first time I had two services running and a lot of Google talkback as reported by my software firewall.
    That was the main I almost immediately deinstalled it, and I know a lot of people who did the same. Despite it’s features, Chrome will not get more popular this way. Its more like a spyware right now.

  • @Craig Buckler
    AFAIK, if an installer is not an MSI file, or at least MSI compatible (like Opera’s non-classic installer), it can’t be installed by the Windows domain. The only way then is a workaround (which I haven’t really tried, but it should work in theory) – share the installer file over the network, then create a startup script that runs the installer directly from the server, and executes it as administrator (a special user account could be created for the installation only, in order to never reveal to workstation users the admin password).

    “Configuring and locking them down” is exactly what I had in mind with “adjusting”, yes… I forgot the phrase “lock down” :-P .

  • Biju

    IE 8 and FireFox rocks

  • Matthew

    The techies have always driven adoption. You see that with Firefox. I do not think it is the name either. Firefox, Safari, and Opera have nothing to do with internet either. Chrome is a great name.

    I want to love Chrome. I already use it fairly often (~20% of my browsing) and I want to use it more. What it needs though is add-ons. As soon as Chrome gets something approaching the ease of finding and installing add-ons that Firefox has, I am moving.

  • israelisassi

    How about: Chrome – it will get you home!

  • Lorraine

    I have to run Vista in basic mode when I use Fireworks (graphics program) Chrome’s minimize, maximize, and close buttons quit working. That should be fixed. I would like a “Print preview,” like any other normal Windows program. The “Save page as…” feature doesn’t seem to save the code without modification. Hate that. For checking XML pages, Chrome should behave as Firefox and IE and display the tags, not hide them.

    For marketing, press the speed issue, Chrome is fast. I like how the history shows me the sites I’ve visited in order, it gives me a better chance of finding “um…that site I visited two weeks ago…something I linked to after I read that news story…”

    Anyone use the Incognito window?

  • busy

    I switched to Chrome recently, and now Firefox feels extremely sluggish, especially the time it takes to start up. I still occasionally use it when I really need firebug or web developer toolbar, but mostly I’m over it.

    I could end up going to Opera since my informal tests say it starts as quick as Chrome, but for now I’m very happy with using Chrome for most browsing.

    I do miss mouse gestures though. :/

  • Anonymous

    I just switched to firefox from safari, wanting to try chrome.

  • Jonny Haynes

    @WavyDavy and first poster,

    They’re not sending off information without your consent. You agreed to do that when you signed the EULA.

  • Clare W

    Add Ons. People follow other people who “know more” … so once those people (who need the add-ons) start using Google Chrome, others will follow. Oh and for the Mac. no brainer.

  • materix

    Chrome has become my preferred browser. The reason is that my computer is quite old and runs quite slowly, and Chrome has by far the fastest load-time. I do not hope that they introduce extensions and other heavy loading features into the browser in the future.

  • Pancho

    I wish I could combine all three. I use IE8 about 50% of the time, Firefox and Chrome 25/25. Each has some unique and useful features the other two do not have. Like the Windows and Linux wars, I have never understood why it has to be all or nothing. Use the best tool available for the specific task at hand.

  • yinrunning

    I think this all misses the point. Google doesn’t care how many people use the browser. It makes money whenever people are using the Internet. If people use the Internet through Chrome, or some Chrome features find their way into other browsers and make them better, or if the Chrome featureset ends up spawning some big killer feature: then great. If not: then great. They win either way. Gmail, Maps, Wave, Search, Books, Translate, Analytics, YouTube, and on and on an on… When you have so many game-changing product offerings, none of them individually have to be the 800-pound gorilla in their bracket. They just have to hold their own. Chrome holds its own, and will continue to. I can think of lots of things that I would add to lots of Google products.

    To look @ it a different way: If you had that much revenue and felt like launching a new browser offering… Why wouldn’t you? They do it because they can, not to keep the stock price up.

    The only thing I agree with other than that on this page is that if they want web dev’s to champion Chrome the way we’ve championed FF for years: Telling friends and family about it, installing it on every machine we touch, wearing t-shirts, etc. etc. then who cares about Gears, render speed, process isolation, or anything else. GIVE US ADDONS. If I can’t have Web Dev Toolbar, FF-style JavaScript console, ShowIP, MeasureIt, Firebug, and a few other things? I can’t use it. I have work to do. The addons are what make Firefox. Lord knows its render times are like a pot-smoking fat girl who just ate too many pizzas trying to run up a hill. *eye roll*

  • CurtBennett

    This topic almost perfectly fits my development motto: “The average person’s learning curve tolerance is practically a flat line.”

    Non-techies have no idea what “chrome” means in the tech world. Even a significant number of techies I know had never heard the term before Chrome was released. Since the name means nothing to most people, a name change is certainly within reason. In the Times Square video, everyone at least knew or figured out that “browser” was some sort of reference to the web, so maybe something simple like “Google Web Browser” would be good enough to be obvious to even the least technical users as to it’s purpose.

    I think Google is already doing a good job on where and how it’s promoting Chrome though. I had to check my Gmail account today from a computer that only had IE and it had a note below the search box that said something like “Gmail is faster with Google Chrome. Download it?”

    As far as phoning home and add-ons are concerned, non-techies just don’t care about these things. As long as it displays normal pages properly and lets them view things like Flash videos and PDFs without any strange prompts, they’re happy, and making sure they’re happy is priority #1 for getting Chrome accepted and adopted by the masses.

    I do consider myself a privacy advocate though, and I sincerely hope that Google will soon put a simple checkbox somewhere in the browser settings that will allow us to turn off background data transfers that we don’t explicitly authorize.

    Honestly, I couldn’t care less if Chrome ever gets developer add-ons though. I’m going to use at least 3 browsers for the foreseeable future anyway, which includes one that already has all the developer features I like. Tweak in one, test in all, publish, wait for complaints. :)

  • tamas

    I read half of the comments and they are miss features from Chrome which are already implemented, just use the latest “Dev Channel” 3.x version. E.g. the “awesome bar” is much more awesome in Chrome than in FF: e.g full text search in the already visited pages. Somebody missed youtube: search from the search bar. It’s there not just for youtube but any search engines which has a search box and a search button since v1.0. There’s no need to manage search plugins. Some people miss firebug. Chrome’s JS debugger is awesome in the latest dev. version. Stack trace in the debugger & auto breakpoints at exceptions anyone? Some people miss the plugins. It’s coming, (it’s already there in the dev channel version) and it’s gonna be extremly easy to develop extensions with minimal knowledge of js/html/css. Some people miss auto upgrade. ??? It’s there. You just don’t even notice that it was upgraded. While FF starts slowly every second time to upgrade itself.. Chrome phones home… sure, but please check the Options dialog where you can disable all the features which require ‘phoning home’.

    So Chrome is the best choice for web developers & for people who don’t like to wait during (or before) browsing.

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