Does Chrome OS Have a Fighting Chance?
One thing that both Google and Apple share is that almost the instant that they announce a new product, the public loves it. That's partly because they tend to deliver winning products, but they don't always do so. Google has shuttered a number of projects from its labs, and its productivity applications are popular, but haven't come close to toppling Microsoft Office. And remember the Apple Newton? I barely do either.
For these reasons, and because an operating system is a complex thing to build and gather support for, it makes sense to scrutinize Google's actual chances of delivering a hit with it's newly announced Chrome OS. Here are some things that will work in Google's favor, and some that will not.
In Google's Favor: Chrome OS is targeted first for netbooks, one of the hottest hardware categories under the sun. As we've reported before, netbooks are in fact such a hot hardware category that Microsoft has directly related its recent financial shortfalls and staff reductions to the sudden success of the category. Chrome OS will also run on both x86 and ARM processors, which, as JKOnThe Run notes, "covers pretty much the entire netbook spectrum." JKOnTheRun also notes that Chrome OS may be ideal for Smartbooks, the net-centric devices running ARM chips shown recently at Computex.
Also, netbook operating systems don't necessarily have to run as deep as traditional desktop operating systems. They're primarily aimed at web-based and mobile applications. Google has said that Chrome OS will have "a minimalist interface."
In Google's Favor: Both Android and Chrome give it a headstart. Android had been expected to take off on netbooks, but as Larry Augustin, a Silicon Valley investor who is on the board of many open source software companies tells the New York Times, "Android wasn't really meant for netbooks." That said, Android is Linux-based and so is Chrome OS. Google can easily share parts of the Android code-base with Chrome OS, speeding development time and guaranteeing the use of a lot of proven code. Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen also tells the New York Times that “Chrome is basically a modern operating system.”
Indeed, Chrome puts processes in silos, and keeps tabs--often running web applications--from crashing when another tab crashes. Google has said that it will focus heavily on isolating processes, and security in general, with Chrome OS. The combination of Chrome OS and the Chrome browser could make for a very secure system. According to Google, it will be "completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS."
In Google's Favor: PC makers are already working with Google on Chrome OS. As InfoWorld reports, "Google plans to announce within the next day or so the names of PC makers in Taiwan and China that have already signed on to work with its new Chrome operating system, a spokeswoman said Wednesday." That's pretty big news. You can't go far with an operating system without support from the hardware makers, and it sounds like Google already has traction with them.
Not in Google's Favor: Microsoft will deliver Windows 7 this fall, and it's targeted to make a big splash on netbooks. Windows 7 has gotten very favorable reviews, and is seen by some as the OS that will rescue Microsoft from the problems it has had with Vista. It's not a good idea to underestimate Microsoft's huge power in the sales channel, and with the biggest hardware makers. Windows 7 will also arrive this fall, a whole year before Chrome OS. The biggest thing to note here is that very few operating systems have made much of a dent in Microsoft's hegemony.
Not in Google's Favor: A huge part of Google's bet with Chrome OS is that users will transition heavily toward cloud-based applications. These apps are already on the rise, but many observers question whether people are confident enough to rely entirely on cloud-based applications, and cloud storage. Part of the reason desktop apps are still dominant is because people are familiar with them and how to keep their data secure with them. Application usage doesn't shift entirely overnight.
Not in Google's Favor: As we've covered before, Moblin--another Linux-based, open source operating system headed for netbooks--is gaining momentum. It has backing from Intel and Novell, and an entire steering committee at The Linux Foundation oversees it and is delivering betas at a healthy clip. Part of Intel's interest in Moblin is moving a lot of its Atom chips for netbooks, and it can help create favorable price points for Moblin-based netbooks and more. Moblin will make the netbook OS market more fragmented, and will get support from at least some hardware makers.
Not in Google's Favor: As GigaOm notes, telecom carriers are not big fans of Google. Can the company convince the carriers that selling netbooks with Chrome OS is the way to go? Most analysts expect carriers to become a huge distribution channel for netbooks.
Not in Google's Favor: GigaOm also has a very interesting thread of many comments posted by its user community about Chrome OS--worth reading. This one caught my eye: "With Google Chrome OS, privacy R.I.P." Google has a bad reputation for collecting so much private information about users, and that has been an issue for some Chrome browser users. Will users want their entire platform to be Google-based, and want their platform to emphasize Google's applications and its huge advertising network?