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Will the OS not matter in time?

It was late Wednesday afternoon here when news of Google's plans to unveil a desktop operating system (OS) first broke, further intensifying its rivalry against current desktop OS lead Microsoft.There has long been speculation that the search giant will eventually come up with its own desktop platform, but it was anybody's guess--until now--how far Google was willing to go to pit itself against Microsoft's stronghold in this space.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor on

It was late Wednesday afternoon here when news of Google's plans to unveil a desktop operating system (OS) first broke, further intensifying its rivalry against current desktop OS lead Microsoft.

There has long been speculation that the search giant will eventually come up with its own desktop platform, but it was anybody's guess--until now--how far Google was willing to go to pit itself against Microsoft's stronghold in this space.

In its blog unveiling the new OS, Google describes its bid to redefine personal computing. "The operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no Web. Today, we're announcing a new project that's a natural extension of Google Chrome--the Google Chrome OS. It's our attempt to rethink what operating systems should be."

Slated to be available in the second half of 2010, the Chrome OS is touted to change the way computers operate--emphasizing speed and Web functionality.

I believe Google's move to name and model the OS after its browser is telling: the Web, via the browser, is replacing the OS.

This latest move by Google isn't simply about the company's attempt to up the ante against Microsoft. I think it could very well reflect how the industry is evolving and how society is choosing to interact.

These days, when I'm on a computer, the Web browser is the first thing I turn on. Other than Microsoft Word, which I use to work on my articles, I don't keep any other application open in the background.

As more software makers pile their apps on the Web (think cloud), it'll likely be only a matter of time before more of us see the browser--not the OS--as our entry point to our daily tasks.

But, before we get to that point, I think a couple of challenges need to be resolved first.

First, connection speed. I'm paying close to S$60 each month for my home's broadband service. That's no chump change, and yet, there are still times when I'm close to falling asleep waiting for a YouTube video to buffer its way through.

Second, complete and seamless Web interoperability. I need more assurance that if I switch to a Web-based office suite like Google Docs or Zoho, my documents will retain its original format and all punctuations or symbols I use will not be wrongly converted if accessed on all other office suites, Web-based or otherwise. This seamless interoperability should also apply for all other applications.

Above all, legacy issues remain. Businesses will want to know about the level of security and amount of integration they will need to implement to bridge the gap between offline and online apps.

Moving completely over to the Web will also require a mindset change, particularly, among pockets of users who have become too familiar and comfortable working in the traditional desktop OS environment.

That aside, there should still be a place for applications to exist offline, in a desktop OS-based platform--specifically, feature-rich apps that are niche and require more intensive processing power such as music and video editing software. Also, there are some features I like in MS Word that free, Web-based office suites still do not offer.

Assuming that Google doesn't have to deal with the antitrust inquisitions that Microsoft had to face in the past, its Chrome OS may be the first steps toward a Web era that'll redefine the realm of personal computing.

When that happens, even the Chrome OS won't matter because as far as users are concerned, simple and fast access to the Web is all that matters.

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