Following months of speculation that it was working on an Internet browser like Google’s Chrome or Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Chinese search giant Baidu announced in April that it was indeed developing a browser but offered little in the way of detail.At last Baidu Browser "Liulanqi" is out and one glance at its slick, stripped-down interface makes it clear that the company’s designers are vastly more inspired by Google’s chrome than they are by Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.
The fast-acting tabs, game-heavy application platform, keyboard shortcuts and placement of menu items are all very familiar.
In fact, if it weren’t for the browser’s promotion of Chinese sites like Sina for Microblogging and Youku for video, the uninitiated could easily mistake it for a Chinese-language version of Chrome .
In announcing the browser in April, Baidu Chief Executive Robin Li said the idea was to help attract more traffic to the company’s search engine. The company may also consider models like revenue-sharing with developers that want to charge for applications in the browser, a Baidu spokeswoman said. The applications, which number 30,000 and open in a Baidu Browser tab, are currently free.
Observers have previously attributed some of Baidu’s success to its ability to tailor existing technologies to the China market.
Baidu says the browser’s application platform is what differentiates it most from Chrome, partly because it is focused on the entertainment features that Chinese users want. The platform has “music” and “video” sections in addition to others like “games” and “life.” The company plans to add new distinguishing features as time goes on and it plans to launch an updated browser this year, a Baidu spokeswoman said. Baidu will also offer its own apps alongside third-party apps in the browser, she said.
The app platform—where users can search for apps in a “Treasure Vault” section and place shortcuts to them on a home page—is similar to the Chrome Web store that Google launched late last year. The apps in Baidu’s browser were, however, already available on its website to users who performed a search for them, a function the company launched in September.
The browser does have unique touches, like a button beside the address bar that immediately opens recently closed tabs, one at a time.
Baidu could face a challenge promoting its browser in China, where users are slow enough to adopt new browsers that Internet Explorer 6 remains very popular, said Mark Natkin, managing director of Marbridge Consulting in Beijing. Internet Explorer 9 is the newest version of Microsoft’s browser.Baidu could advertise its browser on its search engine, but Chinese companies like antivirus software maker Qihoo 360, which also offers a browser, have had the most success promoting their programs by bundling them with other software, like games, Mr. Natkin said.
“Baidu has realized perhaps a little bit late the importance of client-side applications,” or those that run on a user’s system, he said. Among the companies that have pursued such applications more aggressively, he said, is Google.