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There are grim times ahead for big tech. Democrats are pushing for Congress to rein in firms such as Google, Apple and Facebook, while the EU has reportedly drawn up a list of 20 internet companies that will be subject to stringent new rules that curb their power.
At the weekend, Politico reported that the Justice Department and state prosecutors, who are investigating Google for alleged antitrust violations, are considering whether to force Google to sell its Chrome browser.
Chrome is by far the world’s most used browser, with almost 70% of the market on desktop computers and 64% on mobile, according to NetMarketShare.
If Google were forced to cleave its browser away from its advertising business, who would buy it? Here are some of the likely contenders:
Samsung certainly has the funds to make big buys and it’s not short of motive, either. Samsung has its own browser on mobile devices, which is pre-installed on all of its phones, but despite being the world’s second biggest smartphone maker (it was overtaken by Huawei earlier this year), Samsung’s browser is barely an also-ran, with just over 4% of the mobile market.
Samsung buying Chrome would give it an instant captive audience and a means to sell both advertising and more handsets. However, would the U.S. authorities want to see Chrome handed to a foreign owner? That seems unlikely.
Having switched its own browser to the same engine as Chrome earlier this year, Microsoft would be an obvious candidate to pick up the browser. Not only would it give Microsoft the mobile presence it has craved for years, it would restore Microsoft’s desktop browser dominance too.
That last point is, however, precisely the reason such a deal would be unlikely to go through. Authorities in the U.S. and Europe fought long-running battles to combat Microsoft’s browser dominance at the turn of the century. The idea that the Justice Department would hand it back to Microsoft now, even in a vastly different market, seems fanciful. And can you imagine the legal challenges from rival browser makers?
Microsoft would love to make it happen, the rest of the world would wince.
Oracle is a strange company. On the face of it, an enterprise software company has no business buying a largely consumer-focused browser. On the other hand, it recently won approval to buy the U.S. operations of TikTok!
A browser would certainly make more sense than a social media app. Many of Oracle’s applications are now browser-based and having control over the browser’s development and security features could be attractive to enterprise customers.
It would also keep Larry Ellison’s company firmly in the public eye, and if there’s one place that Larry Ellison loves to be, it’s in the spotlight.
HP is still the world’s second biggest PC vendor by unit sales, according to Gartner, and so has obvious skin in the game when it comes to a desktop browser.
It’s a company with a track record of bold acquisitions, too. Palm for $1.2 billion in 2010, Autonomy for $11 billion in 2011, and Compaq for $25 billion back in 2002, to name but a few. That said, with the possible exception of Compaq, none of those big buys have worked out brilliantly.
The biggest reason HP is a contender is that, if forced to sell Chrome, Google would surely have to surrender its Chromebook business too. That’s a piece of business that HP would dearly love to pick up.
Unlike HP, Adobe definitely has the software pedigree. And with an increasing push to move its services into the cloud, owning its own browser could make business sense, too. Not to mention the upsell opportunities. “Click here to open your PDF in the Adobe browser, and by the way, you can upgrade to Adobe Acrobat DC for just $49 per month…”
The subscription model that Adobe has doggedly stuck to has driven its revenue and profits skywards in recent years, making such an acquisition financially viable. Being a U.S. company, it would raise fewer eyebrows than selling to, say, Samsung too.
And if Adobe had its own browser, it could bring black Flash! (Relax, it’s just a joke.)