Yesterday, Google held a press conference at its Mountain View headquarters to provide the world with an update on its new operating system, Chrome OS.
A lot of new details were forthcoming, which have have been well-covered by others. The questions on everyone's mind: is Chrome OS the real deal? Where does it fit in? How will it impact the OS market. My answers: it isn't, nowhere, it won't. Here are 12 reasons why Chrome OS is going to fail.
- The web matters, but so does the desktop. With Chrome OS, Google is betting that desktop apps don't matter to the average consumer. Is that a good bet? Probably not. While there's no doubt that you can do a lot on the web today, but that doesn't mean the desktop is dead. From accounting programs (e.g. Quickbooks) to P2P software (e.g. Limewire) to the desktop software that comes bundled with devices like digital cameras, there are plenty of desktop applications that average consumers still use, or might want to use.
- Less isn't more. Even if 95% of what you do is on the web and Chrome OS seems like a viable choice, why buy a machine that can do less than the machine you have today? Unless the machines packing Chrome OS are significantly cheaper, the average consumers is not going to pay approximately the same amount of money for less functionality and flexibility.
- Google's focus on netbooks is short-sighted. Netbooks may not be dying, but the ultrathin is fast becoming the new netbook. Some low-end ultrathins sporting more powerful ultra-low voltage (ULV) CPUs from Intel and AMD cost as much as high-end netbooks with much less powerful processors. The question for a consumer is why you'd want to run an OS clearly designed for yesterday's netbooks on your new, more powerful ultrathin. The obvious answer: you don't.
Consumers are comfortable with Windows. Love it or hate it, Windows is in a long-term relationship with consumers. Getting them to cozy up to a different kind of OS is a huge marketing challenge. As is getting them to keep their Chrome OS machine once they realize that it's a Chrome OS machine. As an example, consider MSI, which has in the past attributed the high return rates for some of its netbooks to the fact that they were running Linux:
"Our internal research has shown that the return of netbooks is higher than regular notebooks, but the main cause of that is Linux. People would love to pay $299 or $399 but they don’t know what they get until they open the box.They start playing around with Linux and start realizing that it’s not what they are used to. They don’t want to spend time to learn it so they bring it back to the store. The return rate is at least four times higher for Linux netbooks than Windows XP netbooks."
- Windows 7 rocks. Microsoft's new OS has received a lot of positive press, and as someone who is running it on a new ultrathin ULV laptop, I can say that it's a very decent OS and is much, much faster than Vista. In fact, if I owned an underpowered netbook I suspect I still might be able to get away with running Windows 7 on it. As a fun comparison, consider that (according to Net Applications) Windows 7 has already achieved greater marketshare in the OS market since mid-September than the Chrome browser has achieved in the browser market since December 2008. Yet Google has promoted the Chrome browser on some of the most trafficked properties in the world, including on its homepage. That shows the significant mountain Google faces in penetrating the OS market.
- Google doesn't have a monopoly on web apps. Chrome OS is a viable option if you can use web apps exclusively. But so is Windows, Mac OS X, Linux or any other operating system that runs a web browser. After all, you can run web apps -- including Google's -- in just about every modern browser. In other words, when you get right down to it Google isn't really offering you anything that you don't already have.
- Support? What support? If you're an average consumer and something goes wrong with your Chrome OS netbook, who are you going to call? Certainly not Google. And without massive usage, it's hard to see local computer techs (or services like the Geek Squad) jumping over themselves to support Chrome OS users.
- HTML5 isn't here. Google's belief in web apps is inherently based on its belief in HTML5. There's only one problem: HTML5 isn't here and it will almost certainly be years before developers really start looking at it seriously.
- The interesting features are technical. Google is bringing some interesting things to the table with Chrome OS but most of them are subtle details that appeal to techies. The problem is that you can't really sell technical details to the layman with enough specificity to be meaningful.
- Only 'referenced hardware' will be supported. Chrome OS may be open source but it will only run on hardware Google chooses to support. There are obvious, logical reasons for this but make no doubt about it: this is a huge barrier to adoption and in my opinion will even make it difficult for Chrome OS to compete with Linux. That's bad news for Chrome OS, since we know how well the Ubuntus of the world have fared.
- The Chrome browser hasn't taken the world by storm. While one could debate how respectable Google's results with the Chrome browser are, one can't debate a simple fact: Chrome is clearly not taking over the world. Which begs the question: if consumers aren't flocking to download Chrome the browser for free, why will they flock to pay for machines with Chrome OS when the key selling points are largely the same? Answer: they won't.
- At the end of the day, Chrome OS is the Chrome browser. When you take a few steps back, all Google has really done is built an 'OS' to run a web browser. Not a big deal.