As noted on the Google Operating System blog, an upcoming session at the Google I/O conference highlights an imminent improvement to Google's open-source Chrome browser: extensions.
Google has recently been making Firefox a bit more like its Chrome browser, with improvements to its toolbar for the Mozilla browser that give it a Chrome appearance, but by adding an easy way to develop extensions for Chrome, Google is going the opposite direction: making Chrome more like Firefox, which has arguably been successful largely because of its extensibility.
So when will Chrome follow Firefox's suit? Almost certainly by the time of Google's I/O conference in May, Nicholas Moline suggests. This should significantly heat up the competition between the dueling open-source browsers, Firefox and Chrome, and give users greater choice.
With Google's Chrome browser now topping 1 percent market share in the browser market, according to Net Applications, it still has a long way to go before it can tackle Firefox's 21.53 percent share. But the real loser here is likely to be Microsoft's Internet Explorer, which continues to slide in market share against the open-source browsers.
By adding the ability for developers to improve Google Chrome through extensions, Google is taking a risk that such extensions will slow performance, but it's also making a bet that a tailored browser will win over customers, as it has for Firefox. It's a smart bet, one that Mozilla made with Firefox, to good effect, even while Microsoft's own extension strategy failed to make much of an impact.
Why has Mozilla been successful with extensions while Microsoft has failed? I think that much stems from the nature of the community that each organization is able to create. Microsoft, as a company, can't command the same fervor of community devotion that not-for-profit Mozilla can.
It will therefore be interesting to see if Google Chrome extensions suffer the IE fate. Perhaps Google can manage its growing Chrome community in such a way that its corporate presence is lightly felt, thereby encouraging more community contributions. Or perhaps not.
I suspect that Firefox will continue to win the browser war because of this, but I also believe that Google Chrome, as an open-source project, is going to feel like a better place to develop extensions than IE, thereby encouraging Firefox and Chrome to continue their onslaught on Microsoft's browser market share.