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.