I'm not one of those ready to write Windows an RIP certificate now that Google has finally taken (some of) the wraps off its Chrome OS. In fact, after reading through industry watchers' questions and Google's answers about it, I'm thinking that Chrome OS may not look quite so appealing by the time it rolls out in late 2010. Here's why.
First, as others have noted, Google's Chrome OS is a new windowing system layered on top of Linux that is being customized to run on netbooks. Chrome OS is an "extension to Chrome," the company's browser, in Google execs' own words. Google officials are billing Chrome OS, among other things, as a way to provide Web applications with the functionality of desktop applications.
Microsoft offers an extension not just to its browser, Internet Explorer, but also to Firefox, Apple's Safari and Google's own Chrome. That extension is Silverlight. Among other things, Silverlight is a vehicle for providing increasingly complex consumer and business apps via a browser.
At the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) this week, Microsoft rolled out its strategy and plans for Silverlight 4, the version of its browser plug-in that is slated for final release by mid-2010. Silverlight 4 is adding support for data binding, enterprise networking and printing, and lots of other features that are likely to make the platform more appealing to folks writing not just single-function, lightweight Web apps, but enterprise apps, as well.
Silverlight is a slimmed-down, cross-platform version of Microsoft's Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) programming model. Each successive iteration of Silverlight includes more and more WPF functionality (and vice versa).
Some day -- Microsoft won't say exactly when -- Silverlight and WPF are going to merge into one Web programming and app delivery model that, most likely, will be known as Silverlight, Brad Becker, Director of Product Management for Microsoft's Rich Client Platforms, told me this week at TechEd the PDC. Now that the two share the same compiled assemblies, tools and the like, that idea isn't really so far-fetched. Until that happens, Microsoft plans to continue to offer both WPF and Silverlight, steering developers of more complex, resource-intensive applications toward WPF and Web-centric app developers toward Silverlight.
When Google execs were asked during this week's press conference where they shared more information (but no code or systems) about the Chrome OS as to whether Silverlight would be able to work on Chrome OS, they said no comment. Maybe they see Silverlight might be more foe than friend of the Chrome OS.
I understand Silverlight is not an operating system. But some Google watchers are questioning whether the Chrome OS is actually an operating system, either, or just a glorified browser. Unlike Silverlight, which can run on a variety of PCs and soon, phones, Google OS is going to be a dedicated Linux-based netbook OS that will only work with certain predesignated peripherals. Microsoft already offers a netbook OS -- Windows -- which doesn't force you to run all apps inside your browser -- and which works with lots of different devices.
Would you go so far as to say the Chrome OS is going to be more of a Silverlight competitor than a WIndows one? I'm thinking right now that may seem a bit far-fetched, but as more and more apps are designed to run in Silverlight, maybe not....?