Google's free Chrome browser represents a hidden billion-dollar business for the search engine giant, according to a new investor note from Piper Jaffray. By prodding other browser makers to continually innovate, the firm's analysts say, Google's services are able to deliver even richer experiences to users.
This is a major plus for the search engine giant, noted Piper Jaffray analysts Gene Munster, Douglas Clinton and Matthew Lebo in a Wednesday investor note.
"Based on Google's recent search distribution deal with Mozilla for Firefox, we believe Chrome could be worth over $1 billion to Google," Piper Jaffray's analysts wrote.
The investment firm's analysts believe Chrome began as -- and still remains -- a way for Google to push browser makers to introduce more advanced features.
"However, given Chrome's success, we believe it could mark a way to keep search distribution costs from other browsers in check long-term," Munster, Clinton and Lebo added.
Search Engine Maneuvers
Under an agreement inked with Mozilla in the middle of last month, Google agreed to pay $900 million over the next three years to ensure that its search engine remains at the top of the list in Mozilla's Firefox browser. Among other things, the move potentially helps to limit the growth of Microsoft's rival search engine Bing even as Google helps to fund additional Firefox browser innovation that benefit the search engine giant's own Web-based services.
"Where Bing may get its next big push is from the arrangement with Facebook, or if Yahoo and its new CEO become a major force again," said Net Applications Executive Vice President Vince Vizzaccaro.
StatCounter reports that the Chrome (27.27 percent) and Firefox (25.27 percent) browser platforms collectively accounted for more than half of all browser users globally in December. By contrast, Microsoft's Internet Explorer accounted for a 38.65 percent share, according to the Dublin-based Web metrics firm.
U.S.-based Net Applications ranked IE's market share at 51.9 percent at the end of December, compared with 21.8 percent for Firefox and 19.1 percent for Chrome. Still, the browser market trends can change quickly.
"We've seen it with the introduction of Firefox, then Chrome, and most recently with the huge push to tablets and mobile where Apple is dominating," Vizzaccaro said. "I see some potential coming in 2012 for Windows Mobile and Windows 8 on a tablet that could greatly help IE."
Open for Business
Since Chrome is likely growing faster -- given that it is taking market share and Firefox is losing -- Piper Jaffray's analysts believe Chrome could be attributed a higher annual revenue assumption than Firefox. Moreover, Chrome "would likely be worth more than $2 billion as a standalone entity," Munster, Clinton and Lebo told investors Wednesday.
Ironically, Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page had to hire several Mozilla Firefox developers in 2008 to build the demo that finally convinced the company's former CEO Eric Schmidt that Google should launch its own browser.
"At the time, Google was a small company," Schmidt told The Wall Street Journal a year later. "Having come through the bruising browser wars, I didn't want to do that again."
At the end of 2010 Google made Chrome available in an MSI package that provides IT administrators control over the update process. For example, group policies became available to IT administrators at the end of 2010 for fine tuning the behavior of Chrome in the business environment through the customization of the automatic updates interval, the company-specific home page and other parameters.
"Google announced Chrome for business exactly a year ago and IT administrators appear to have embraced it in a remarkably short time," said StatCounter CEO Aodhan Cullen.