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Summary:

Late yesterday evening, the folks at Google made official what many have suspected for months, or even years: They’re working on an operating system. The new OS, dubbed Chrome OS after Google’s recent entry into the ongoing browser wars, will have speed and Internet connectivity as […]

Google Chrome OS

Late yesterday evening, the folks at Google made official what many have suspected for months, or even years: They’re working on an operating system. The new OS, dubbed Chrome OS after Google’s recent entry into the ongoing browser wars, will have speed and Internet connectivity as its two top priorities, and be based on a Linux kernel, making it the ideal candidate for netbooks (and, as a result, probably the strongest competitor for Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 7).

Chrome OS is still a long way off, since Google says it won’t be available for consumer use until the second half of 2010 (when it’ll ship on some netbook devices), but when it does drop, it will no doubt change the OS landscape significantly and irreversibly. The question is, who will take the most significant blow as a result of Google entering the fray as a major third competitor in the mainstream OS wars?

The spin seems to be that Google is aiming their guns squarely at Windows 7 with Chrome OS, since netbooks appear to be the devices which would benefit the most from running the extremely slimmed-down OS. Basically, Chrome OS will run Chrome the browser, and that’s about it. User interface elements will be kept to an absolute minimum, and the sole purpose of the OS itself appears to be to get you online as fast as possible so that you can begin using web applications, which will be the bread and butter of Chrome. It’ll work automatically with any existing ones, and development for Chrome OS will be as simple as developing a new web app.

Considering my current set-up with my Eee PC 1000HE, on which I’ve created Chrome application shortcuts or Prism SSB apps for just about every major function I need, Chrome OS sounds like exactly the kind of thing I’m looking for. But Google’s OS, while said to be “initially” targeted at netbooks, will be compatible with any computer using ARM or x86 architecture, so it could be used on other systems, too.

So while Windows will definitely lose some users to the new OS, how will Apple fare? Will Boot Camp installs of Chrome allow people to ignore future iterations of Leopard a pass, in favor of what promises to be a much more lightweight and direct approach to how we use our computers? I think the days of a web-based OS being used as our primary operating system are much farther off than Google would hope, since many people still either aren’t aware of, or don’t trust, cloud-based information storage and retrieval for most types of data. And I think that will save Apple significant revenue impact in the short term. TheNextWeb is already thinking about a Google/Apple face-off as a result of Chrome OS, and I think they’re right, in terms of the long view.

What’s more immediately relevant, though, is what Google’s announcement means for Apple tangentially, by way of netbooks. Apple still staunchly refuses to play that particular game, despite the fact that other holdouts like Sony are finally coming on board with the concept. The first reply I received when I posted the news about Chrome on Twitter this morning was a friend asking whether this will finally push Apple to follow suit. It’s an obvious question, and one everyone from Redmond to Cupertino must be asking themselves right now.

Given a smart, simple solution that just works from Google, casual users who need a laptop but don’t necessarily need it to do that much will be flocking to Chrome-toting devices in droves, abandoning other potential notebook markets to do so. Despite Google’s announcement being software-related, I think the real impact will be in hardware, at least where Apple’s concerned.

  1. I was wondering about this myself, after reading Michael Arrington’s gleeful description of the looming death of Windows.

    Looking strictly at the numbers, if Google’s able to pull people away from desktops and laptops, beyond the netbooks (which would reflect new purchases, as 2nd/3rd/etc computers, and could be an expansion of the market, not necessarily reflecting a shrinking customer base). If the Chrome OS pulls people away from desktops/laptops, though, Apple could be in serious trouble. Windows can handle a 2% reduction in market share, but such a reduction would nuke Apple’s share by half, potentially making it much less interesting for other developers.

    I doubt that’ll happen, as I don’t imagine the Chrome OS taking off, but there’s the potential for an Apple-damaging snowball.

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  2. Don’t forget that many many businesses that rely on Apple, do it for the desktop applications they use: photography, science, video, etc. The web currently can’t replace that and the focus of the new OS seems to be giving you easy access to the web.

    There is space for competitors in the OS arena and I welcome new competition that will help make OS X better.

    The lack of real competition has given us Windows for years. Fortunately that changed with OS X and now people are starting to “think different” when it comes to picking up a new machine.

    Google can bring some really great ideas to the OS and force the competition to push their boundaries even more.

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  3. [...] Gray and ReadWriteWeb talk about the new OS as well. Sarah Perez and The Apple Blog talk about it as well. Did you like this post? You may want to subscribe via the RSS feed or [...]

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  4. Chrome recreates a subset of what we already have in the iPhone OS. Sandboxing, individual processes, instant on…all of it, we’ve had for two years now. The iPhone IS A NETBOOK. What does it do other than interact with the cloud? What the iPhone also has is dedicated, custom hardware, a more robust programming environment in Cocoa, and a middle layer of technologies like Open CL, Core Frameworks, Bonjour, Grand Central, etc. that enable experiences above and beyond your core, “netbook” tasks, i.e. mobile gaming and accessory support.

    Google wants our data. That’s what makes them money. So as long as Apple continues to support open standards and raw data, I think Google’s position is “more power to them” if they want to expand upon that baseline level of compliance with incredible hardware and innovative software.

    What we’re seeing here is a bifurcation in the hardware market to Passive PCs (netbooks, thin-client desktops) and Creative PCs (workstations). There are people who want to watch youtube and send some tweets and people who are create those youtube videos and doing work. An iPhone or a netbook running Chrome can take care of the first group. But you still need a workstation to take care of the second group, and Apple’s technology is increasingly targeted towards them. Apple has been standards compliant for years. Safari is more compliant still and has better javascript performance than Chrome. But 64-bit support, Open Cl, and Grand Central are technologies all tied to taking advantage of next generation hardware. Apple’s on both sides of this game, and don’t think that Snow Leopard technology isn’t going to find it’s way into increasingly sophisticated iPhones.

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  5. Carl in Mountain View Wednesday, July 8, 2009

    As much as I like and enjoy using its products though I have been using Bing (faster) and Ask (more relevant) a lot more lately, Google is using its monopolistic position in advertising, search and general Web services to put Microsoft out of business. And that is illegal.

    Having a presence on the Apple board and working with Microsoft’s customers (PC makers) against Microsoft, is conspiracy in the real sense and should bring a RICO allegation against Google and its collaborators. What Google is doing sounds a lot like what Intel gets in trouble for a lot. Where is the outrage against Google?

    Everyone loves Google. Everyone loves Warren Buffet. If Buffett started building cars, better cars maybe, maybe not and giving them away with the hope and goal of dominating the market for his insurance businesses, would that be fair competition to Ford?

    People refer to the “Microsoft tax”, give me a break. When Google realizes its goal of dominating the Web experience, everyone, even non-computer users will pay a “Google tax” passed on to consumers by advertisers of all manner of goods and services because they will have pay the Troll whatever it demands to play in it’s G-Space and that benefits Apple.

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  6. Good luck syncing your iPhone on Chrome.

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  7. Howie Isaacks Wednesday, July 8, 2009

    It won’t affect Apple at all except raise awareness among consumers that there are other choices than just Windows. I hope that Google does well. Their major challenge here is to make sure that their OS plays well with Macs, Windows PCs, and Linux. Consumers need to be able to interact with other computer users without worrying about file compatibility.

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  8. With the sharp rise of portable open-source software, social networks and various web apps many people are realising that they just don’t need OS X or Windows to do what they need a computer to do.

    This is why people you’d least expect, and far from geeky, are perfectly happy on a Linux system (like Ubuntu on a Dell, or a Linux netbook) on which supposedly ‘staple’ proprietary apps – like Photoshop and FCP are not intended.

    Google has been very timely here and I would be worried indeed if I were Apple. Moreso, this will perhaps be enough to push Adobe and various device drivers to better support Linux, undermining the last barriers to more widespread Linux adoption.

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    1. Howie Isaacks Wednesday, July 8, 2009

      From my experience with working at an Apple store, I have seen many times that consumers often buy computers thinking that they will only use them for very specific, “low end” things; however, they later find that they really needed a faster machine, more RAM, a bigger hard drive, etc. I would prefer to have a system that does everything that I need it to do rather than simple low end tasks. It seems dumb to maintain more than one system. Netbooks are a good utility, but they’re very lacking. Ubuntu (I hate that name) is really nice, but it’s nowhere near ready for mainstream adoption. Google should spell out from the beginning what their intent with this OS is before it hits the market. Otherwise, they may find that a lot of consumers are disappointed that they’re running underpowered machines that can’t support a more full featured OS, and that they’re stuck with Google.

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  9. I’m not worried. Apple users are all about ease of use, and smooth, streamlined interfaces. Well I assure you that Google will have NONE of that. Not saying that Google apps aren’t useful. But not a single one that I have EVER used has had a GUI worth a crap. It’s not going to affect Apple one bit, especially because, as I have said before, Apple doesn’t need a netbook.

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  10. Microsoft has more to lose they are the ones with 90% market share with bulk of their profits coming from the monopoly of Windows and Office. They are the ones pushing price as the main criteria and Google with Chrome OS will beat them at their own game. The more alternatives to Windows the better! When Chrome grabs 2 – 5% share mainly from Windows we can expect more companies launching their own OSes hurting Microsoft even more…
    Apple has on top of Macs, the iPhone, iPod and iTunes and will most likely launch a table product soon. And Apple is in hardware company not a software company like Microsoft.

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