FT : Google Chrome OS Plans Are Hot Air

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Google has taken direct aim at Microsoft’s core personal computer software business, with the announcement of a PC operating system to rival Windows.  The system, based on Google’s Chrome web browser, is designed for all classes of PCs, “from small netbooks to full-sized desktop systems”, and will be available in machines from “multiple” PC makers in the second half of next year, the company said.  Google also promised that the new software would solve many of the frustrations felt by users of Windows-based PCs, from slow start-up times to threats from computer viruses.  Google’s venture into the PC operating system business caps a steady move into software that has seen it encroach on to Microsoft’s turf.  As well as a series of internet-based applications to rival Microsoft’s Office suite of software applications, those moves have included the Android operating system for mobile handsets and, last year, the Chrome Web browser.  Pushing those initiatives to their logical conclusion, Google said it would now extend Chrome to become a full PC operating system…..Google said the Chrome OS would first appear on netbooks in the second half of 2010, and that it was announcing the software now because it had already started discussions with hardware makers that wanted to use it in some their machines.  The new software, based on the so-called kernel, or core, of the open-source Linux operating system, had been designed to run Web-based applications such as those developed by Google itself, the company said, making it the first PC operating system developed from scratch for the internet age.  In another attack on one of the main pillars of Microsoft’s business, Google said developers would be able to write applications for the Chrome OS using standard web development tools – a challenge to Microsoft’s own developer tools business.

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Google and Apple display the corporate equivalent of dark glasses and celebrity insouciance, gaining reams of free publicity with their every move.  Yet while Apple need only step on stage with a product ready for sale, Google gets attention for merely mentioning its intentions.  Dominance of search, piles of cash and an army of engineers do make it too powerful to be ignored.  But there is no clear reason why Microsoft should quake over Wednesday’s announcement that Google intends to launch a free, fully fledged operating system by next year.  Google’s web browser Chrome, on which the new operating system will be based, has a mere 2% market share.  To make the slightest dent in Microsoft’s control of the PC world, manufacturers of the netbooks at which it will be aimed will have to be persuaded to pre-install the software.  As with Google’s Android operating system for mobile phones, it takes time to win allies.  Although several manufacturers are developing handsets based on the software, Taiwan’s HTC is the only significant assembler so far with Android-based phones on the market.  Furthermore, the long-departed Netscape once hoped to run everything through a browser.  And the much-touted shift to running computing through the internet is occurring only very slowly, with Microsoft furiously investing in the change as well.  An opportunity exists in the new market for products that combine the best elements of a phone and a cheap laptop but the power of inertia should not be underestimated.  Indeed, the business world, which bought three-fifths of all computers last year, according to Gartner, values stability – which is why many IT systems still run ancient versions of Microsoft Windows in spite of other Linux-based alternatives.  Google continues to chip away at Microsoft’s business but this latest move is no more than a trumpet call in that long battle.



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