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By now, you've probably heard the news: Google has finally made its move in the OS arena. Google Chrome OS is on its way and Google is taking aim at a market in which Microsoft's grip seems tenuous: netbooks.

Not surprisingly, the buzz has begun. Complete, of course, with sensational headlines like the one that declares Google has dropped a "nuclear bomb" on Microsoft.

Is the announcement of Google Chrome OS big news? Yep. Is it a meaningful event in the OS market? Probably not. Here's why:

  • It's not really an OS. Let's get this out of the way: Google Chrome OS is really "Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel".
  • Google's vision is meaningless to consumers. In the blog post announcing Google Chrome OS, Sundar Pichai of Google says that the OS is "our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be". While I'm all for innovation and fresh thinking, I don't see how the "lightweight operating system" Google describes, in which "most of the user experience takes place on the web", is going to jive with what consumers expect and are familiar with. While I'd be the first to admit that the Windows experience leaves a lot to desire, I think Google is overestimating what its OS will be able to offer in terms of differentiation in the areas of "speed, simplicity and security".
  • The Google brand means squat when it comes to software. Just look at the Chrome browser. While it hasn't fallen off the face of the earth, Google hasn't exactly turned it into a viable contender to Firefox or IE either. It's obviously still early but to put things in perspective consider that the latest version of Firefox (3.5) has already surpassed Chrome's market share in a week's time. The bottom line is that Google's consumer brand is almost all search and it faces a major challenge in convincing consumers to trust it with an 'OS'.
  • The Microsoft brand has clout. Love or hate Microsoft, don't underestimate the fact that the Microsoft brand does carry weight with consumers. It's familiar and as sick as it might seem, offers consumers some comfort. When you buy a computer with a Microsoft OS, you know what you're getting (insert jokes here). There's also perceived value in the Microsoft brand name, which shouldn't be dismissed. Try selling a netbook with the Google Chrome OS. My prediction: it will be a lot like selling a netbook with Ubuntu Linux.
  • Web-based applications are the future, but they're not. Web apps rock and they're going to play an increasingly important role in consumer computing but when Google states "all web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies", it's avoiding an inconvenient truth: consumers aren't ready to ditch desktop applications. Even though netbooks aren't really designed to run desktop applications, try telling a consumer who just paid $350 for a netbook that it can only run "web-based applications" because "the web is the platform".
  • Google still doesn't know what it's doing. Google's blog post states "we have a lot of work to do, and we're definitely going to need a lot of help from the open source community to accomplish this vision". While I think it's great that Google will be open sourcing the Chome OS, this statement is basically an admission that Google is trying to figure it out as it goes along. This is one market where that's probably not a good idea.
  • Time is not on Google's side. Google hopes to have Chrome OS in the hands of consumers by the second half of 2010. With Windows 7 set to hit the shelves later this year, that gives Microsoft an important head start in figuring out a way to maintain its grip on the netbook market.

Time will tell but if past is prologue, I suspect Google's Chrome OS will be a big disappointment.

Photo credit: cd.harrison via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 8 July, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2377 more posts from this author

Comments (12)

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Anon

"Try selling a netbook with the Google Chrome OS. My prediction: it will be a lot like selling a netbook with Ubuntu Linux" - I disagree - from a consumer's point-of-view (assuming they are Joe Public) they'll never have heard of Linux, but will certainly have heard of Google, and with Google's clean, simple approach to search (and other products), Mr/Mrs Public may well be swayed by the allegedly cheaper price tag.

I have a lot of friends who really only use their PCs for email, web browsing and reading documents (word, excel etc) - a 'cheaper' netbook with Chrome OS will deliver exactly what they want.

Of course, this is dependent on how Google markets the new OS and more importantly who they market it to (and of course if it is actually any good at what it intends to be good at).

Personally I am a big fan of some Google products and not of others (likewise with Microsoft), but one thing I think is great is that this competition will be good for the OS market in general - hopefully the winner will be the consumer!!

about 7 years ago

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Anon

...of course the ability to run iTunes will be essential...!!

about 7 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Anon,

Google's clean, simple approach to search was transplanted to the Chrome browser and that hasn't done anything.

And as for Google marketing Chrome OS, I think Google's difficulty in marketing the Chrome browser tells us all we need to know. If you have trouble marketing a browser, good luck marketing an 'OS'.

Since Chrome OS is just the Chrome browser basically running on Linux, I don't see how it's going to run iTunes.

Bottom line: don't be surprised if the Chrome OS doesn't fare much better than Ubuntu.

about 7 years ago

Riaz Kanani

Riaz Kanani, CEO at Profusion

I agree its going to take a lot of time, but Google has a great brand and one that will stretch to include software.

Chrome's failure is mostly due to a shortage of time. Even Firefox took a long long time to be adopted. The major reason for this is because adoption of browsers outside of an Internet savvy audience is through word of mouth - everyone just stuck with IE as it worked fine for them. They didnt know what they were missing out on.

Also I doubt it is just a windowing system on top of Linux - it sounds to me like a more tightly integrated browser/OS - something that we have not seen before. Microsoft's Gazelle was describing the same concept earlier this year.

about 7 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Riaz,

When you state "everyone just stuck with IE as it worked fine for them", that gets to the heart of the issue with Chrome. The reason it isn't being installed like hotcakes is that for most internet users, IE is a perfectly usable product.

As for your doubts about the windowing system, that's straight from Google's post.

dj,

Your example is a good one. A few problems though:

  1. Google hasn't yet earned the level of trust from corporate users that Microsoft has. Google support is virtually non-existent. I doubt Google is going to support the Chrome OS directly; Chrome OS users will likely be forced to rely on an ecosystem of support vendors not officially affiliated with Google. That might be fine for some businesses, but there's a good reason most major corporations demand the availability of support from the manufacturers of the software they use. After all, if you have mission-critical tasks that can't be performed because you run into a software problem, millions of dollars a day could be at stake. And if you can't even pay the company that makes the software to help you fix it, you're for lack of a better term SOL. Bottom line: a Google OS will not be a good choice for corporate environments unless it changes its business model and culture.
  2. From what I can tell, Google Apps is a good option for certain types of companies. And for email, I think it's often a great option. But when it comes to word processing, spreadsheets, etc., one cannot underestimate how entrenched Office is in the corporate world.
  3. Most corporations need more than a browser and OS. While web-based applications will be used far more frequently going forward, I think if you analyzed the software used at corporations, you'd find that there is still plenty of software that is desktop-based that can't just be ditched.

In the final analysis for me at least the Chrome OS isn't likely to be received by the market any differently than Ubuntu. It's not just about cost; it's about risk, familiarity, the availability of support.

The only thing Google has going for it is the Google brand and like I said, the track record shows that doesn't mean much outside of search.

about 7 years ago

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Charles Norrie

Google's got it! Sell the M$ stock, though you should have done that in 2001.

Forget what the 'corporate market wants'. Twenty years ago we were stuck behind dumb clunky IBM terminals and IT said that was the future of computing and such terminals were a huge advance of dropping off a couple of decks of cards and coming back to trawl through telephone directories worth of burst paper. But then the PC came in and very shortly IT tried to take that over. Never quite worked. And IT consumed resources.  OK for the 1980s and 1990s.  Not for the lean 2000s. The neat netbook will replace the laptop. Putting the power on the server has been an aim for 15 years on more, with a smallish screen as the 'widget' that accesses. M$ has a dreadful reputation, whether malware, bloat, expense, lock-in, lack of upgradability, incosistency, the fact that the OS cost big dollar and the apps more! Don't mourn for M$, just say good riddance to a vicious corporate thug

about 7 years ago

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land rover spares

As a marketer,we can see google already establish their name in terms of marketing while microsoft with their software.Both has the advantage in computer related products.The decision will still depend on the user to choose what they think is the best for them.

about 7 years ago

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MJ Walshe

@ dj barker

your still going to have to have you network infrastructure costs in fact you would have to spend way more on you WAN if you relaying on the internet being up 99,999 of the time

so 200/year compare that to how much it costs to employ someone thats peanuts

about 7 years ago

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Saju Daniel

"While I'd be the first to admit that the Windows experience leaves a lot to desire..."

Can you elaborate on this? As to what are your pet peeves and frustrations!

about 7 years ago

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Inflecto Systems [Web Based Applications]

Google has an uphill struggle to catch up with Microsoft in the business marketplace. These kind of netbooks at the minute are only relevant in the home consumer marketplace. Microsft is too embeded in the business marketplace for Google or Apple to take any kind of meaningful sahre in the short term.

almost 7 years ago

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Betty

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Betty

http://smallpet.info

almost 7 years ago

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ecommerce software

Both google and microsoft has their own especialties which help us to create and take things easy on the web.I personally like these two companies for their contribution on technology advancement.

over 6 years ago

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