Everyone would rather believe in strategy than talent. Strategy can be argued over, analyzed, refined, rejiggered. Talent just is.
This is why sports announcers dissect football games like chess tournaments, even though most contests are won by the team with the biggest, fastest players. In a world too-often ruled by chance and genes, it’s nice to feel that a few clear decisions can make a difference.
The folks analyzing the Google Chrome browser are no different, developing persuasive (and often beautifully crafted) theories as to why a Google browser is a brilliant strategy. But when you think about it, the world didn’t need another browser before Chrome, and Google didn’t either: Mozilla Firefox, which is committed to the same open standards as Google, has the same strategic value as Chrome, and more market-share to boot. Apple Safari will use the same engine as Chrome. Strategically, Chrome is redundant.
Ah, but wait ’til you run Chrome. The software is fast as a track bike and just as simple and beautiful too. Best of all, Chrome’s application shortcuts let you launch a web application in full-screen mode, so that the whole experience feels like an application instead of a web page running in a browser loaded down with address bars, toolbars and browser menus. For a site like Redfin, which was designed to run as an application without any scrolling and minimal server calls, the visual effect is dramatic. It’s not an exaggeration to say that, on running Chrome for the first time, my heart was racing.
The cumulative effect demonstrated, to me, a triumph of talent over strategy. Building a browser could be a good strategy or a bad one, depending on how well-built the browser is. And this browser seems very well built. I got the feeling that Google developed Chrome because it could, almost as a show-off move.
Like Microsoft in 1997, none of the software giants has as much talent today as Google. And like Microsoft, Google has stopped inventing whole new categories of software, and instead just begun improving — sometimes dramatically, often by sheer brute force — existing products. How many people would have called Microsoft the Evil Empire if it had developed a copycat product to compete with a partner like Mozilla?
The good software will keep coming. While we see resumes every week from Microsoft, Amazon and every other software company under the sun, a Google engineer has never applied to work at Redfin.
And that’s Google’s true competitive advantage right there: not in its strategy, but because it has become a very good place for engineers to work, perhaps the best large place in the world. Any idiot can build the best strategy if he has the best software engineers, but it takes a genius to find those people and keep them happy.
(Note: Because Redfin runs a lot of code on the browser, we detect right up front what type of browser you’re using, and warn users if a browser isn’t fully supported. Chrome isn’t fully supported but if you ignore the warning and use the site, everything seems to run great so far.)