Google Chrome OS is a game changer

Late last night Google finally owned up to having an OS in the pipeline the Google Chrome Operating System. This is going to be a game changer.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

Late last night Google finally owned up to having an OS in the pipeline the Google Chrome Operating System. This is going to be a game changer.

We don't have a lot of information on Chrome OS just yet, but what we do know is very interesting:

  • It's open source
  • It's a lightweight OS aimed at netbooks
  • It'll be available to consumers in the second-half of 2010
  • It'll run in x86 and ARM processors
  • The idea is for you to be on the web in seconds

Should Microsoft be threatened by this announcement? You bet.

Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We're designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don't have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work.

There's also a clear shot in Microsoft's direction:

We hear a lot from our users and their message is clear — computers need to get better.

While it's clear that Google's intention for Chrome OS is for it to be a platform for users to access web-based services (Google web-based services ...), given that this OS is based on the Linux there's no reason not to assume that the OS could be a platform for all sorts of apps. In fact, I think that Google shouldn't be too focused on web-based services and add a sprinkling of apps too (and make sure it's easy for users to find more).

One thing's for sure, this is a game changer. Big style. So far, Linux and open source as a whole hasn't had a major company giving it momentum in the consumer market. While people might not have a clue what an Ubuntu or Linux or FOSS is, people do know what Google is, and this means that for the first time, Linux represents a serious threat to Microsoft's business.

Anther factor that makes this a game changer is that it represents an unorthodox way to make money from an OS. Microsoft's business model is based on fostering a platform, but ultimately it has to sell each and every new OS to users. Apple ties the OS to the hardware, in effect giving the OS away for free. Google will be looking at using ad revenue to make this venture worthwhile. Microsoft is vulnerable at the lower-end of the price spectrum because the cost of the OS represents a significant chunk of the overall cost of systems. A free OS pushed by a big name like Google could quickly gather momentum, especially are more and more people find that there is indeed a life beyond Windows.

Another interesting question here is how does this move by Google affect its relationship with Apple? Scan the board of directors for both companies and you see a crossover - Google CEO Eric Schmidt. As Google takes aim at the consumer electronics market, this relationship could become strained.

Note: Arthur D. Levinson is also a director on both boards.

All that said, it is important to inject realism into the debate. Microsoft is unlikely to stand still and hand the netbook market to Google. Microsoft knows what the consequences are to its bottom line if it loses its grip on the OS market. That means that Google has a fight on its hands. Still, there's no doubt that this will shake up the OS market, and that's a good thing. At the very least, we'll see some innovation.

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