I find it fascinating that Chrome is competing directly with Apple by using Apple’s own WebKit technology against them.  It brings up some interesting questions about corporate open source technology.

As a background, Apple’s Safari web browser is based on a custom rendering engine that Apple engineered, called WebKit, which is the main piece that displays actual web pages.  Since opening it up, Apple has released versions of its Safari web browser for the Mac and for Windows.  AFAIK, the Windows version hasn’t gotten a lot of traction, but on the Mac, it’s been the best browser available (at least, in my opinion).

Google, increasingly a competitor of Apple’s (especially since creating the Android OS), has developed its own web browser called Chrome.  Chrome uses WebKit to render pages.  Ultimately, all Google has provided, is the “rest” of the browser experience: how it looks and behaves, plugins, etc.  The competitive game has switched from “who renders web pages the best” to “who provides the best browsing experience”.  But is that best for Apple, who spent all that time engineering WebKit in the first place?

Open Source is a technological double-edged sword: on the one hand, it can facilitate great collaboration, getting engineers outside the company to refine and improve WebKit without any extra cost to Apple.  But at the same time, it lets competitors like Google take advantage of that hard work, which they’ve done by making it the foundation for Chrome.

For Apple to be successful against Chrome, it needs to provide the best browsing experience.  Apple has several major points in their favor, the most important one being that they have consistently provided the best user experience in software design of all the major players (Google, Microsoft, etc).  If Apple committed more manpower and resources to Safari, they could create a browsing experience far superior to Chrome (they’ve already blown IE out of the water).

I think it’s just a matter of focus.  If Apple feels compelled enough to build the browser, they will.  And it will be far better than Chrome.  But, ultimately, I’m not sure it’s a big priority for Apple.