After years of repeated denials, Google has finally acknowledged that it is, indeed, building an operating system for PCs.
I think it's good for customers, PC makers, software makers and even for Microsoft that Google is getting into the operating-system game. After more than two decades, Microsoft has only one real competitor in the desktop OS space: Apple. That's not enough. Competition is good. It keeps prices down and true innovation up.
However, after reading the very few Chrome OS details that Google smartly dropped a couple of weeks before Microsoft is expected to announce the release to manufacturing of Windows 7, I've got a few doubts.... And quite a few more than the huge number of Google fanboys and girls who seem to forget for all its product debuts, Google hasn't had any home runs other than search.
Google will undoubtedly fill in a lot of the holes that it left open with today's announcement. But here are a few that already have me wondering:
1. Google Chrome OS is shipping in the second half of 2010? And people criticize Microsoft for preannouning vaporware by years? Late 2010 is eons from now in the computing world. (It's even later than Windows Mobile 7, which is expected to start showing up on phones in the first half of 2010.) To those saying that Chrome OS will drop at the same time as Windows 7, your calendars need adjusting. Windows 7 goes on sale October 22, 2009.
2. Google is going to let people modify and change the OS source code? As Apple has shown quite well, when one vendor controls the end-to-end process, both the computer hardware and software, and doesn't let anyone else touch it, a PC has more cohesiveness and less crapware. Microsoft has shown that OEMs can be allowed to customize their PCs without tinkering with -- and introducing more support headaches, bugs and glitches into -- the OS. How many different Chrome OSes will there be? Who will be entity users call when they have OS problems?
3. What happened to Google's positioning that no one was going to want software running on PCs in our brave new world? People just needed devices and browsers and Google Docs and Apps. PCs were dated and clunky and only for people who wanted to run old-school apps locally. Weren't they? Now, Google is adopting the same world view as Microsoft: There will be different OSes for different platforms (Android and Windows Mobile for phones; Chrome OS and Windows for PCs).
I also think it's telling that many of Google's fans seem to be assuming Microsoft is standing still. Yes, Windows 7 is just another version of Windows... a good one, but still another iteration of what Microsoft's been developing for years.
Remember: Microsoft has a number of projects in the works that I'd say are more likely to be competitors to Chrome OS than is Windows 7. The Gazelle OS-in-a-browser project from Microsoft Research is still just a research project and not in incubation or test-release form. But if Microsoft decides it has legs, they could put it on a fast track. There's Live Mesh -- which is more like Google Wave in theory, than the Chrome OS. But no one at Microsoft has talked publicly about the implications of "meshifying Windows" and what that might look like.
I say welcome to the OS party, Google. But I know I am not going to be in line in late 2010 for a version 1.0 product on a netbook. Will you? And even if you won't, what kinds of effects do you hope Google getting into the PC OS business will have on Microsoft?