Thoughts on Google Chrome OS - Not a Microsoft Killer ... Yet

Google dropped two bombs yesterday.  The first, that the beta tag was being removed from Google Apps was interesting but a non-event to me in many ways as everyone has been ignoring the beta tag for a long time anyway, but perhaps some enterprises were scared off by it so maybe this is news for them.  But regardless of what tag is applied, today's user is going to be more affected by the functionality, usability, and quality of the offering than if it has a beta tag on it or not.

But the more interesting and groundbreaking news was the announcement of the forthcoming Chrome OS.  There are some that see this as an all out assault on Microsoft.  When you combine their Google Apps with the Chrome Browser and now Chrome OS, you have a full stack for the end user.  But given that in their announcement they are clearly focused on the netbook market, I would stop well short of calling this an all out assault.  That's not to say that this isn't just the next logical step in a strategy that started with mobile and embedded devices with Android, moves to netbooks with Chrome OS, and someday could target the broader desktop and ultimately enterprise market with another offering.

There are also those that take a more pessimistic view of this complete stack and chances that it will be successful, both because the netbook market isn't that large and enterprises are not going to embrace it any time soon.  All valid points, but one doesn't go from having no OS to competing with everything Microsoft has in the OS arena overnight.  There are also other flaws in Dennis' pessimistic view.  He seems to think that because Google will open-source what they are doing they are washing their hands of maintaining it.  He clearly doesn't understand open-source as code being open-source certainly doesn't stop a vendor from providing full support to customers or OEMs and I'm sure Google would love to generate revenue from doing so.

So is just another variant of Linux on the desktop and should Google should have just joined or put their weight behind an existing Linux distro or just brought their version of Linux used in their infrastructure to the consumer?  The latter is just silly as the Linux they use in their data centers is clearly tuned and equipped for high performance search and serving up web applications, not a consumer's desktop or netbook form factors.  The former is a valid point as there are distros like gOS that have integrated Google gadgets and Google Apps into the desktop and users experience or Damn Small Linux that would serve as a good starting point for Google, but if Google is serious about this they aren't going to take a join an existing small community approach but need to own it and drive the direction themselves.

If one reads between the lines though, I think it is clear that this isn't going to just be another Linux distro and will be much more, and perhaps that systematic next step in the all out assault on Microsoft.  The key quote to me is:

"Later this year we will open-source its code, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010."

If this were to be just Google's variant of a Linux distro running on netbooks, they should be able to do that in a few months.  If we aren't going to see netbooks until the second half of 2010 (a full year-plus!), Google has designs on doing much more with the OS to make it truly focused on an easier to use, web-oriented, and faster experience to differentiate it from other Linux distros, Windows XP/Vista/7, and Mac OS X.  This is apparent in another quote (emphasis mine):

"The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel."

Clearly Google does not see Gnome or KDE as options (bloated) or other lighter weight alternatives like XFCE as sufficient so will be creating their own windowing system.  Look for this, and trimming the OS to just what is needed and perhaps some innovation around quicker startup, to be where the investment is made.

In the end, competition and choice is good.  I'll certainly be interested to see what Google does with Chrome OS and and how the competition reacts.

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