Google ChromeOS: Have people taken leave of their senses?

Summary:Reading the commentary from the likes of TechCrunch, Mashable, The Guardian and even our own esteemed Sam Diaz on the pre-launch (you've got another YEAR to wait) you'd think the Google ChromeOS was the closest thing to the second coming of Jesus Christ. Get a grip people.

Reading the commentary from the likes of TechCrunch, Mashable, The Guardian and even our own esteemed Sam Diaz on the pre-launch (you've got another YEAR to wait) you'd think the Google ChromeOS was the closest thing to the second coming of Jesus Christ. Get a grip people. First up MG Siegler of TechCrunch:

This is Google dropping the mother of bombs on its chief rival, Microsoft. It even says as much in the first paragraph of its post, “However, the operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web.” Yeah, who do you think they mean by that?

Wow - I am over-freakin'-whelmed. Next up Bobbie Johnson at The Guardian:

Although the company was keen to keep expectations low by suggesting a focus on netbook computers, it will undoubtedly be hoping that it can make inroads against Microsoft, the software giant that has dominated the operating system market for more than a decade with Windows.

Then we have Ben Parr over on Mashable:

Clearly though, Google’s setting the stage for a major battle with Microsoft. Just as Microsoft is trying to break Google’s stranglehold on the search engine market, Google may be trying to do the same with the Windows-controlled market.

Then Sam Diaz:

The Chrome OS is a direct attack against Microsoft’s lucrative - albeit vulnerable - Windows operating system.

Do you notice the common thread? Not much by way of facts to back up the stories. Nor any rational analysis of what's going on in the market. Pure opinion with zippo to make sense of the story other than what appears to be a Wisdom of Crowds attempt to parse Googles' smartly worded announcement. But it gets worse. Michael Arrington triumphally declares:

Don’t worry about those desktop apps you think you need. Office? Meh. You’ve got Zoho and Google Apps. You won’t miss office. Chrome plus Gears plus Google Wave plus HTML 5 and web platforms like Flash and Silverlight all combine into a single wonderful computing device. The Internet Is Everything. All the OS has to do is boot the damn computer, get me to a browser as fast as possible and then stay the hell out of the way.

Oh but if the world was so simple.

Fortunately, Krishnan Subramanian at Cloud Ave lends a more level headed view:

Instead of doing their own OS, they could have rallied behind one of the Linux distros, say Damn Small Linux, and helped them get traction among the hardware vendors. This is a move by Google to deflect the high handed tactics by Microsoft in the netbook market but it appears to me like a redundant one. I feel that they should have supported one of the existing distros. However, if they had taken that route, there is no way they could have pushed the Google Chrome browser (and their services) tightly integrated with the Linux distro. In short, it is a desperate attempt by Google to stop Microsoft in the netbook game and, also, push the Google Chrome browser to the masses at a point in time when IE's market share is going downhill.

The Register's John Oates adds sensible perspective on the reality:

Netbooks, Google's initial target market, have been less successful for Linux than many open source advocates had originally hoped. A cut-down version of Microsoft's Windows XP is currently the dominant operating system for this PC form factor.

At this point you might want to go grab a cup of your favorite Java (sic) and relax before reading the rest.

Google already has its own form of Linux it uses to run its gazzilion servers so to Krishnan's point, why is it re-inventing the wheel? Would it not have been easier to build out of that? Maybe it has and we just haven't been told. That would be a smart move because then you could see how Google might put servers in the Internet cloud.

The initial target seems to be the Netbook but I don't see how anyone can realistically extrapolate that to world dominance of the entire PC market, let alone the crucially important server market. The last figures I saw say the total Notebook shipments were 5.62 million. That was in December 2008 so let's be incredibly generous and double the number for the last six months. That means some 15 million Netbooks in the market. That's pretty small potatoes when you think there are some 12 million Blackberries alone in the market. It also ignores predictions that it will be the smartphone that becomes the dominant device, at least in the markets that are growing.

Linux has not fared so well in the Netbooks market and I don't see anything here that makes me think Google ChromeOS will do any better. Where's the secret sauce here other than the Google halo effect painted over with the browser and duly hyped by the SV Google lovers? Sure, I can see why Google might make subtle statements that people wish to interpret but the reality is no-one outside the Silicon Valley tech bubble gives a damn what operating system and browser they use. Many are still mandated to use IE6 as a colleague reminded me the other day. Simply having Google wave its hand is not going to sway hard nosed enterprise buyers - even if it is free. Which neatly brings me to another point

Google has said it wants to get help from the open source community. I'll bet they do. All those drivers that Arrington dismisses with a wave of the hand WILL need to be served. If he thinks I"m wrong then a quick call to any of the major banks' CTO offices should put him straight on that one. Better still, listen to some of the discussions at CloudCamps where the problem of driver capabilities in the Internet Cloud matter a great deal.

Regardless of their fat bank account, mobilizing the OSS community the only way they can get legions of code jocks to destruction test the as yet to be seen OS. Even then and despite the proclivity among geeks for all things OS, when ChromeOS does emerge it will be a v1.0. No enterprise buyer I know will go within a country mile of committing its users' kit to something at that level of maturity. Can you imagine the chaotic disruption this would cause in IT departments used to burning images and distributing a standard desktop?

Let's not forget that despite Linux popularity on the LAMP stack enterprise still wants a throat to choke. In offering ChromeOS as open source, Google has effectively washed its hands of responsibility to maintain. Who will pick up the cudgels?

Despite Linux relative popularity, it has taken many years for the OS to develop to the point where enterprise buyers are prepared to think seriously about bringing it in house. Microsoft has proven - as John Oates says - remarkably difficult to dislodge. And however leaden footed the company might be, I don't buy that Microsoft needs to react quickly. It has time, Windows 7, a near 90% market share plus very deep coffers with which to mull the implications.

Yes - I see the need for an OS designed specifically for the Internet but would you trust Google to get it right? As I and others have said before, Google may be good at getting product out the door but it is not so great at delivering a polished product. Despite Arrington's crowing, I defy any enterprise buyer to seriously consider dumping Excel in favor of Google Docs and Spreadsheet. Even taking the beta label off the product doesn't help. If anything it serves to highlight Google's deficiencies. The spreadsheet is missing critical functionality like Pivot Table handling to which every finance person I know is addicted. In addition, I note that most of the customers Google rolls out to tell its apps story are focusing their thoughts on GMail. That was certainly the case at the recent SIIA conference I attended. That really makes Google little more than a (possible) two trick pony. As Jason Hiner correctly analyzes:

Google is emerging as one of Microsoft’s key competitors in the software business - perhaps even its biggest competitor within a few years - but Google has not mastered the “good enough” principle. Google software engineers have arguably created only two highly-profitable hit products: the ubiquitous Google.com search engine and the Web-based email client Gmail.

As an aside, Jason provides a welter of other reasons why enterprise will look askance at Google, many of which dovetail into this analysis.

And let's not forget that for all its oil tanker capability to move quickly, it is inconceivable that Microsoft will sit back, look at its market share and simply focus on Windows 7. It has shown an ability to move relatively quickly and I would not be surprised to see it provide a measured response when it considers the time is right.

There is one point among all the hubris upon which I can agree. Outside of the very large enterprise space, I don't see a lot of attention being paid to brand new on-prem applications building. Almost everything I see is being built for the Internet Cloud. However, we have yet to see massively scalable applications (other than GMail) emerge that would fit into the category of business critical apps. You can argue that you need an OS to develop against and it is feasible that ChromeOS could be a contender.But we're a very long way away from being able to make those assertions with any degree of confidence.

But then I see far more attention being paid to what Microsoft is offering than to any other OS out there. We don't for instance know whether Google has ambitions to take ChromeOS all the way where as we do know that Microsoft can offer a coherent stack for everything from the mobile device through to laptop/desktop and out to server. Windows may not be perfect but there are millions of developers happily trotting out code to work on these machines. Taken together with a difficult economic environment and the caution that brings, just which way does Google think CXO's are going to vote?

Why all the apparent criticism at Silicon Valley's current favorite poster child? The enterprise runs on Microsoft. That's Microsoft's largest franchise. It will fight tooth and nail to retain its share for which witness the speed at which it is galloping to get Sharepoint into any business that will take it. In any deal I hear about you can almost guarantee the sales rep will be saying: "And do you want Sharepoint with that?"

And now...let's all breathe.

Topics: Operating Systems, Google, Hardware, Linux, Microsoft, Mobility, Open Source, Software, Windows

About

Dennis Howlett has been providing comment and analysis on enterprise software since 1991 in a variety of European trade and professional journals including CFO Magazine, The Economist and Information Week. Today, apart from being a full time blogger on innovation for professional services organisations, he is a founding member of Enterpri... Full Bio

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