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Microsoft meets its match in Google: Chrome to go retail

Google may spread its Chrome browser through distribution deals. The browser market just got even more competitive.

Whatever we may think about the causes of the current market meltdown, free markets do tend to heal themselves over time. Hence, it was only a matter of time before someone would come along and give Microsoft a run for its money in its core businesses, Windows and Office.

What was less clear, however, was just how much a giveaway--the browser--was going to become central to it all, as applications and data are increasingly being run in "the cloud" with the browser being used to access them.

As I noted on Friday, Microsoft is under considerable threat from Mozilla's Firefox browser as it continues to gain market share at the expense of Internet Explorer. Compounding Microsoft's woes, however, is a new salvo from Google: it plans to take its open-source Chrome browser retail through OEM deals with computer manufacturers, as Ars Technica reports:

"We will probably do distribution deals," (Google Vice President of Product Management Sundar) Pinchai told The Times. "We could work with an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) and have them ship computers with Chrome preinstalled."

Doing so could significantly change the browser market's competitive landscape...Many consumers don't actually do much choosing of Internet Explorer. History suggests that the vast majority of users are actually remarkably agnostic over what browser they use, and often opt for whatever ships on the system. If Google does cut deals to distribute Chrome as the default browser, it would be an interesting test of whether or not Microsoft's brand-loyalty perception is grounded in anything even resembling fact.

Firefox is changing the game, and Google is apparently preparing to compete with Microsoft at its own game (i.e., bundling its browser on new PCs). Once installed, there's a very good chance that consumers will end up using Chrome. Once it's there, all it takes is one article talking about Firefox or Chrome as being superior to IE in security or some other feature and consumers may well ditch the IE icon.

The browser market just got even frothier. Advantage? Consumers.