Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Google OS

Announced today, Google will create a computer operating system to compete with Microsoft Windows, Apple OS X, and Linux named Google Chrome OS.

Initially, Google will be making Chrome OS for netbooks, a smart place to start as there are fewer compatibility issues with the simpler netbook computers. It is a good place for Google to cut its teeth on a new operating system. Google is currently working with netbook vendors and reports that Chrome OS will be shipping on netbooks by the middle of next year. After that, the implication from their announcement is that it will work its way up into laptops and then desktops.

Will it run Microsoft Office? Will it run Adobe Creative suite? Will it run games? This question is more up to the creators of those applications than it is to Google. Microsoft, Adobe, and game makers will have to develop their applications for Chrome OS. Will they? This is a very important aspect of Chrome OS to watch, which application developers commit to creating, or porting, their applications for Chrome OS?

Will Chrome OS become a full operating system like Microsoft XP/Vista/7, Apple's OS X, and Ubuntu? It is too early to tell really what Google's full intentions are. They may be only targeting the casual netbook market. That market is both small and vulnerable. It is an awkward market as it sits between ever improving Smart Phones that are much smaller and full on laptops that are much more capable. Netbooks don't generally fill the role as a primary computer, they are secondary machines for convenience. Because of this the whole netbook category may just disappear. And there is a chance that if Google is not quick enough, Chrome OS might slip away with it.

Personally, I am very interested in Chrome OS. I use XP everyday and OS X a couple of times a week. I would use OS X more, except that the applications I use everyday are on XP and, as a web designer, I have to test my work on the most common browser, Internet Explorer anyway. Thankfully I am savvy enough to keep my machine clean without having to run any crushingly awful anti-virus software.

But, it sure would be nice to have a cleaner, faster, and more reliable operating system. There is by no means any guaranty that Google can deliver, I am wary as to whether or not they can deliver. For comparison, their web browser Chrome is great and it is my primary browser. But, I am typing this post out in Firefox because, ironically enough, Blogger (a Google property) does not work well inside Chrome. If Google can't get its own web applications to run perfectly in their own browser, how well are they going to be able to get everyone elses applications to run on their own operating system?

Another interesting question is who does this hurt and who does this help?

On the hurt side, Microsoft is the obvious target. As Rob Enderle said, "This is the first time we have had a truly competitive OS on the market in years. This is potentially disruptive and is the first real attempt by anyone to go after Microsoft." Except, of course, it is not. Rob apparently has not heard of a small company down in California called Apple. Which is funny as he tries to pass himself off as some kind of PC industry expert. I guess Rob has not noticed Apple's ever increasing market share? Or that on several college and university campuses Apple usage is over 20%? He also seems to be jumping the gun a bit here, Google does not yet have Chrome OS out. And their first foray into netbooks is a year away. So, it's not really, "...on the market.." He, and most other 'industry pundits' seem to be missing the story hear, I guess due to their Microsoft bias.

The interesting question is, how does this really effect the market? My best guess is that it has potential to hurt Apple more than Microsoft. This is because people who have a choice in what operating system they use often look for something better, faster, more reliable, and easier to use. Regardless of what fanboys on either side say, that better operating system is OS X. It is easier, it is faster (mostly), it is more reliable. It is my humble opinion that most people who use Windows are either forced to because of business issues, or they just don't know enough to look at something else. Microsoft clearly has a hold on the business community with applications like Exchange, Outlook, and MS Office. At least for the moment, Google Wave may change that. And I think Wave is more of an immediate threat to Microsoft than Chrome OS is because it might open up the business market. If that happens, the operating system people choose to use will be much less important. That, in turn, opens the door for competing operating systems to go up against Windows.

But back to why Chrome OS is bad for Apple. If Chrome OS looks to be a really strong operating system, it might draw away application developers from the Mac platform (OS X). That would be bad, because, as Steve Ballmer once said, "Developers, Developers, Developers, Developers, Developers, Developer...." Good developers (who seem to be turning more and more to the Mac) are what drive great applications and that in turn drives the market. If Apple looses developers, Apple is less relevant.

Also, because most Apple users have a choice in what operating system they use, they can switch much more easily. If Chrome OS is as good or better then OS X, then Apple has a real problem. Except that Apple is a smart and creative company that may well figure out a way to be more competitive. Apple's reaction will be very interesting. Google and Apple are quite friendly, and they will both be running on the same core (Linux). Who knows, maybe Chrome OS will be sold on Apple hardware, maybe Chrome OS will become OS 11 (because ours goes to 11)? This is just crazy talk at this point, but with Apple and Google, I don't take anything for granted.

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