The daily competition between Google and Microsoft becomes ever-more direct this week, with Google hosting a demo of its ChromeOS tomorrow, right after Microsoft's Professional Development conference.
ChromeOS is Google's version of Linux for netbooks, much as Android is its Linux for handhelds. It is a version of Bill Gates' nightmares from 15 years ago, as Netscape was rising, visions that led directly to the case of U.S. vs. Microsoft.
Microsoft got through that crisis unscathed in a corporate sense, but its image was transformed from that of a user-friendly upstart to that of "an implacable force for evil," as one comedy show said recently, exemplified by the famous Boardwatch cover of Bill Gates as a member of the Borg, the Star Trek bad guys.
The fear, old programming hands will tell you, was that Netscape would turn its Mozilla browser into a full-fledged operating system that, because of its dominance of the browser space, could beat Windows in the market.
Chrome is a lot like that. It is centered on the browser, which abstracts the complexity of Linux from the user. And it's designed to load fast, a real Achilles Heel for Windows on a netbook. An early version could be available for download next week.
When you're paying $300 for your machine, you don't want to wait 10 minutes for the thing to start, and you don't want to be paying a lot for your software, either. ChromeOS is designed to fix both problems, so I am looking forward to it.
The hope is that the industry which supports ChromeOS will make up in services what it loses in up-front fees. And Google will be able to tie all its online services to ChromeOS, increasing its market share in areas like Mail where it is not yet dominant.