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.