Google Chrome Will Challenge Some SaaS Providers

Google Chrome could help, DemandTec, and other SaaS vendors evolve their offerings, but it also presents problems.

Mary Hayes Weier, Contributor

September 4, 2008

5 Min Read

Google Chrome presents a double-edged sword for software as a service providers. As an open, modern software browser, it has the potential to improve their customers' cloud computing experiences. Yet it's one more browser that will eventually consume SaaS providers' developer resources.

Adam Gross, VP of developer marketing at, has experimented a bit with Google Chrome. "I'm very excited by what I've seen," he said. "All this new innovation and technology." Google's open-source approach means other Web browsers will benefit from its innovations, he added.

Gross's enthusiasm could be influenced by the fact that is among Google's closest allies in the enterprise software market; the two worked together to integrate Google Apps with CRM. But there are no immediate plans for any sort of enterprise partnership deal with Chrome. is "looking at Chrome like everyone else," Gross said.

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Particularly important, Gross said, was Google's emphasis on developing Chrome to access Web applications, not just view content. Although JavaScript already is being pushed to its limits by some Web applications, he said, Google, Apple, and other Web browser developers are doing a good job of capitalizing on the technology to make the Web experience more interactive. Further, Web browsers need to continue to evolve to support the fledgling world of enterprise software mashups.

"As we are increasingly dependent on Web apps, how business users use Web browsers changes," Gross said. "It speaks to a world not about Web sites you visit once, but apps like Salesforce or Gmail that you live in all day, every day."

About half of customers use Internet Explorer 6 to access its software, one-third use IE7, and about 14% use Firefox, according to a blog. Use of IE6, however, dropped 14 percentage points in the last year, with users shifting to IE7 or Firefox. It's a good trend for, considering that the older IE 6 browser has a hard time handling JavaScript and has created challenges for developers.

Another Browser To Support

While the emergence of Chrome and its overall impact on the browser market should improve SaaS user experiences and possibilities, it also creates challenges. "There's the question: Does the world need another browser, or should Google have just participated in another project?," said Alan Coleman, CTO at DemandTec, which provides various SaaS applications to the retail and consumer goods industries. "When I first heard the announcement I thought, 'Why not just help the Firefox guys out?'" Another browser means SaaS companies need to spend time and effort, and precious research and development funds, understanding and dealing with Chrome's specific idiosyncrasies. Regarding Google's "sandbox" approach with Chrome, in which specific Web applications are isolated from one another to improve stability, speed, and security, Coleman isn't convinced there's much different there. Most modern Web browsers take a sandbox approach to some degree or another, he said. But he does like the idea of being able to launch a Web application from the desktop without the extra steps of opening a browser and then launching a Web app from a bookmarks tab -- the Chrome style is more consistent with how most business users launch their applications.

Most of DemandTec's users are on IE 6, and Coleman certainly doesn't expect them to flock to Chrome anytime soon, given that Web browser upgrades across a company can be a major investment for a CIO. It's more likely that businesses follow the consumer market, should Chrome take off. And that's fine with Coleman. "My personal opinion is Google has some great ideas (with Chrome), and I hope their good ideas get incorporated into other browsers."

Charles Ballaro, director of product management at SciQuest, which provides SaaS for supply procurement to such markets as education and health care, also has concerns about adding another browser to the mix. It's challenge enough already to support several browsers. "A developer may come up with a really cool feature, but it was developed in Firefox, and when it goes into IE it doesn’t work," he said. Safari, he added, has presented SciQuest with the most development challenges.

Still, the resources that go into solving issues that arise among different types of browsers isn't a "huge impact" in terms of research and development dollars. "We'll have to do some modifications and make some changes" if businesses adopt Chrome, he said, adding that it would make life easier for SaaS companies if all browser developers did a better job of adhering to the established standards. SaaS vendors, meanwhile, also must be able to support older technologies: some of SciQuest's customers required support for Netscape for a few years after it had pretty much disappeared from the enterprise market.

The browser issue doesn't affect all SaaS vendors equally. Consumers who access customer self-service Web sites run by RightNow Technologies' SaaS CRM use Web browsers, but the contact center agents who use RightNow access the software service via Microsoft's Smart Client Technology, which operates more like a desktop than a browser, utilizing the OS and hardware power of the desktop. Web browsers are a poor choice for contact center agents because of their limited usability features, among other things.

"We believe with Google's entrance of Chrome, we'll eventually end up supporting it on the consumer side," said David Vap, RightNow's VP of products. "But it'll be a substantial amount of time before any browser could handle the sophisticated apps we deliver into the contact center."

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