[Disclosure: Microsoft is a client of the author.]
This week at Ignite, Microsoft announced the final release of their Edge Chromium browser would be mid-January next year. But I’ve been living with this browser since June, and while I was initially impressed, it has gotten even better over time. (I expect many of you have yet to try this browser out, so here’s the link to the preview of the browser.)
Along with this announcement was news of some other interesting aspects of this browser, which uniquely blends Google and Microsoft technology into something we haven’t seen in some time – effectively a co-developed product by two vendors who have been competing for nearly two decades, often vigorously. But both vendors embrace open source and the idea of collaborating to address big problems. So while both vendors started very differently, they are increasingly looking more and more alike.
Admit it: The browser wars were stupid
If you were around in the 1990s, you lived through the so-called browser wars, where Microsoft and Netscape decided to fight to the death, and Microsoft won a Pyrrhic victory, taking over the segment for a time. A Pyrrhic victory is one where the cost of winning is as great or greater than the cost of losing, and while Netscape failed as a company, Microsoft was nearly broken up due to their anti-competitive behavior. Nothing Microsoft did to hurt Netscape actually worked, but that didn’t lessen the penalties which ran into the billions, created a huge drag on the company in terms of oversight and almost forced the breakup of the firm.
Both companies focused on each other, and were late to realize that the real battle was for content and ad dollars. Google caught them both napping and replaced Netscape while becoming a far stronger competitor to Microsoft.
This competitive stupidity wasn’t just tied to Netscape and Microsoft, either. At that point in time at least, Netscape should have evolved to become Google, Yahoo focused so much on Google they missed their evolution to Facebook, and IBM got so focused on Microsoft and Sun that they missed the pivot that created AWS. And finally, AOL got so focused on Microsoft they missed becoming Facebook or Twitter. A lot of these firms aren’t around anymore as a result.
And because the newer firms didn’t learn from Microsoft’s mistakes, we now see Facebook, Google and Amazon facing their own anti-trust breakup risks.
The mistake was focusing on the competitor to the exclusion of the customer, and much of the resulting pain came from customers who lost faith and abandoned the once-powerful now failed firms.
Microsoft’s lessons learned
While it likely felt to those at Microsoft that they were learning lessons in the most painful way possible, they did learn, and the result has been Satya Nadella’s Microsoft. At Ignite this week, that education was showcased as Nadella didn’t once mention a competitor, but over and over again pointed to Microsoft’s strategy of making people achieve more. It’s a user/customer-focused strategy, and it goes back to one of the lessons I learned at IBM: If you place your focus on the customer and set your goals based on what the customer wants them to be, you should do well regardless of what any competitor does…particularly if that competitor focuses on you.
The example we used in IBM came from the car industry and how Toyota was able to pass Ford and General Motors. Toyota studied what the customers wanted and built it, Ford and GM studied what Toyota was building – a process that took 5-7 years – and built cars (such as the Vega and the Pinto) that were competitive with the Toyota’s vehicles from the prior decade. The result was they were no longer competitive. Toyota passed them because they focused on Toyota and not the customer.
Microsoft now understands this same lesson, and the Chromium browser is the result.
The Chromium browser’s foundation is Chrome, which gives it – according to Microsoft’s latest report – 100% compatibility with sites designed to support Chrome. It’s also fully compliant with IE, so it works with internal sites that are still mostly IE-compatible.
This blended technology approach should mean that it simply works on the vast majority of websites, even those where Chrome or IE don’t currently work. Before using the Edge Chromium browser, I maintained IE, Edge, Chrome and Firefox to ensure I could properly access every site I needed to. I no longer even load IE or Firefox anymore. Edge is there because it’s pre-loaded on my PC, but I rarely use it. And I only use Chrome to access Google services (they have most of my pictures thanks to using an Android phone).
Now, instead of juggling four browsers, I’m mostly living on Chromium Edge. Announcements this week indicate Chromium Edge will be available on Windows 7, Windows 10, iOS and Android. It’s been getting faster during the beta test, and Microsoft now reports it’s twice as fast as the old Edge and equivalent to Chrome, which has historically been faster.
Enhancements to this product include aggressively blocking tracking technology and aggressively protecting search history. You can more easily cut and paste from web sites into documents and spreadsheets with the result auto-formatting to properly fit your document (this requires some compatibility with the site and a bit of trial and error, but still easier than having to type the stuff in by hand).
A new trend?
If the firms battling through the ridiculous browser wars had focused less on their competitors and more on their customers and users, much of the pain in the tech industry over the last several decades could have been avoided. Microsoft learned this lesson, albeit the hard way, and the result is products like Windows 10, the Surface X and the new Chromium browser.
It makes you wonder what unexpected thing Microsoft will do next.
I’d like to think it’s the beginning of a new trend in competition – and not just in the tech industry – where, instead of constantly trying to reinvent someone else’s wheel, companies work to just make the wheel better. Better is always good, right?
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