China's largest search engine, Baidu, is developing its own web browser in an effort to cement its hold over the country's Internet market.
Starting this month, Baidu began testing an early beta version of the product within the company, according to an industry source familiar with the browser. The browser is built to be integrated with the company's search applications. Baidu has also incorporated its "box computing" strategy into the design, a concept which allows users to not only search for results, but also execute commands like launching an application in the browser, or directly accessing an online service.
Baidu is also emphasizing security with the new browser, and has built it with the intention of protecting the user's PC from malware implanted on infected websites. The web browser uses the Chinese language and functions on major Windows operating systems.
Baidu currently holds a 75.5 percent share of China's search engine market, with Google a distant second, according to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International. The company's sizeable audience makes its search page a good place to offer the download to potential users.
China's web browser market, however, is currently dominated by Microsoft. About 83 percent of the country's Internet populace uses Internet Explorer, according to CNZZ.com, an analytical Web research site. The other top three browsers in China are all homegrown browsers developed by domestic Internet companies, such as Tencent's TT each with shares ranging from 2 to 4 percent.
The prevalence of Internet Explorer in China is due to how many Internet users in the country simply aren't aware of other browsers in market, said Liu Ning, a strategy director for Digital China, a major IT distributor in the country. He pointed to the lower education levels in China, adding that Internet Explorer comes bundled on PCs operating Windows. By contrast, in the U.S., "people have higher education levels, so they have the knowledge of what other browsers they can choose from," Liu said.
While Microsoft's Internet Explorer maintains a hold over the Chinese market, over time the browser's dominance will erode as other homegrown browsers gain a bigger following, he added. "They are easier to use," Liu said of the browsers and how they have been localized for the ordinary Chinese user. The companies behind the browsers, such as Tencent, 360, and Sohu, can also bundle the browsers with their own Web products.
"The Web browser market can still change," Liu said. "I think there is still an opportunity for Baidu. Browsers are the entry way into the Internet, so this is something very important the company wants to tap into."
China has 457 million Internet users, according to official figures. About a third go online by visiting local Internet cafes, according to the Chinese government.