My thought is that Google prepping a “platform” that will allow them to host a more powerful Google Apps solution set. By building your own browser, you get a lot of control. Similar to Microsoft having active-X in their browser, Google will build in things like “Gears” and possibly other components that will allow them to deliver a high-fidelity experience in Google Apps when not connected to the net and even better when you are connected than what you see today with FireFox and gears.
Chrome gives them incredible flexibility and capability. It's possible that I'm reading too much into this but I think I'm right since who in their right mind would go to this amount of expense to launch another free browser with no other motive. If they are in fact serious about getting a piece of the Office apps market they probably need to do this because doing plug-ins for things like FireFox just can’t deliver the fidelity that they want.
Now regarding Google Apps:
What is interesting about stuff like Google Apps is to see the continuous evolution as it slowly sneaks up on competitors. Sure you can review it today and compare it to MS or Zoho, but by the time those review make it to press, Google has enhanced it and added more capability. This approach allows them to learn, especially how to manage the service, farms and deployment to millions of users. This is the true IP that Google is growing every day. Gmail or Google Apps is not free, you pay by being a beta tester and by really loading their server farm and cloud they are learning how to service, store, “cloud compute” back-up and make redundant, deliver high performance and deploy, to millions of users worldwide. They are learning and building IP. This experience that they gaining on how to deploy massive utility computing to deliver secure 7 X 24 service is a real cornerstone of their IP. This is something that their competitors would pay to learn (pay even more to catch up). It takes huge investment, experimentation, tons of users to use your stuff.
Now… The Google “app engine” (extremely cheap or free) is another example. Write applications and use Google cloud to deploy to your millions for next to nothing in close… Another example of offering something for free in order to attract people to help you learn.
If I were Microsoft, I would be poop’n a brick right now. No, Google doesn’t beat MS today but they are positioned to deliver on the complete vision, faster and cheaper than MS will be able to and to catch up may be VERY difficult. Chrome may be the final piece in the puzzle that Google needs to really unleash the power of cloud computing to business and end-users. It may allow them to resolve the biggest gaps between G-apps and MS Office.
Given the chance what would users (and companies) really want to use? G-apps allows you to change your PC (just load chrome and go synch back up), access via any platform (like my iPhone) and my data stored and secure in the cloud accessible from anywhere, receive upgrades without even knowing. Stick to Office, it will take you a day to come up to speed not to mention long hours of patch jobs, cost, license renewals and forget collaborating with anyone world-wide live within seconds.
Update: With the announcement of "Chrome OS" the other shoe has dropped. :)
Thanks for reading.