Now that Google has its Chrome browser available in beta, the question is: Will it shine in corporate environments?

Observers are reminding themselves that this is just a beta, in fact, a beta by Google's own admission that doesn't have the breadth of features to match current browsers.

But the features it does have are fuelling thoughts about where the browser is or should be headed in a time when the notion of online applications is coming of age.

Key to Chrome is the V8 JavaScript engine designed to run Google's services/applications and other online AJAX-based applications like they are desktop programs. There is also the client's browser tabs that operate as separate processes and could help crash protect the software as a whole and cement it as a stable client for online business applications.

Google says Chrome will provide more speed, stability and security for Web users, and combined with Google Gears, which allows users to take Web-based applications offline.

Chrome also is fuelling talk about where Google itself is headed. Some say Google's effort may be as much proof-of-concept as future product in terms of showing Microsoft, Mozilla, Apple and others what can be done, and prodding them to upgrade their own browser software.

Still others believe there will eventually be a showdown with Microsoft and a Google end-run at building an enterprise computing business. Clearly Chrome could not have been timed better to coincide with Microsoft's Beta 2 release of Internet Explorer 8, a juxtaposition that Google explained as a inadvertent leak of a comic book trumpeting the browser's virtues.

"Google has generated a lot of excitement," says Forrester analyst Sheri McLeish." But it is a beta and from an enterprise perspective it is not ready for serious consideration as a replacement for IE."

McLeish says that anybody who thinks Microsoft doesn't know what is at stake with cloud computing on the horizon and doesn't know how to compete accordingly "is not based in reality."

The infighting, however, will be good.

Google, she says, is innovative and "anyone developing a browser needs to keep pace, and that will drive better features that will benefit users and consumers alike."

On the competitive front, Google has certainly been making inroads on Microsoft's turf in the form of online productivity applications and other services such as Google Earth that are finding their way into corporate application mashups.

In addition, Google and IBM earlier this year unveiled a cloud computing environment they are working and testing at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and Carnegie Mellon University that runs on Linux and includes Xen virtualization and an Apache implementation of the Google File System called Hadoop.

While future plans were not disclosed, the pair said the cloud would eventually be used to support an array of services and applications tailored for consumers and businesses.

Microsoft has been developing its own cloud environment called Live Mesh, which it plans to update in October at its Professional Developers Conference.

But Chrome won't be the straw that breaks the camel's back, observers say, if Google sows a desire to battle Microsoft in the enterprise.

"Chrome is just one of many blocks they would need to be put in place to offer enterprise applications," says Guy Creese, an analyst with Burton Group. "There are enterprise requirements that have not even been fixed in Google Apps Premier. There is no real records management for documents, and they have pretty lousy support for e-mail distribution lists."

Creese also says that he is not sold on the fact that the browser will be the focal interface for cloud computing down the road.

"I believe Adobe Air and [Microsoft] Silverlight may become the UI's of the future," he said.

But Chrome is not all questions -- it does have some answers, Creese says.

"It is clear that people are running into trouble with AJAX. Either the JavaScript is slow or it is a pain to test on all the browsers," he says. "Chrome is a way to make this work better. If Google makes Chrome run better they can show Microsoft and Mozilla that it can be done."

And it is that kind of contribution to the evolution of the browser where others see Chrome providing the most good.

"All those Web apps from Google make extensive use of the JavaScript," says Ray Valdes, research director at Gartner. "The Google apps push the envelope of the modern browser. So now Google is offering a better envelope."

Mozilla CEO John Lily on his blog welcomed Chrome and said it should result in innovation.
He said Google is expanding on browser themes developed over the past year, including JavaScript performance, security and user interfaces.

He said collaborations between Mozilla and Google would continue on the technical side, such as the Breakpad crash reporting system, and on the product front, which has produced such things as anti-phishing and malware advancements now built into Firefox.

"Google has a track record," says Forrester's McLeish. "It has reinvented the way people do certain things."