Microsoft's Wall of Fear Over Chrome OS? Not

In the wake of Google’s (s goog) big announcement last week on Chrome OS, its netbook-focused operating system due to launch in late 2010, speculation is building as to what sort of response it may draw from the competition, especially Microsoft (s msft). Given that Google’s idea is to put a browser-centric look and architecture at the heart of its cloud-focused operating system, PC World thinks Redmond could respond with a so-called “Internet Explorer OS.” Meanwhile, InfoWorld imagines a scenario in which Microsoft conducts a full-frontal attack that starts with classifying Chrome OS as “desktop Linux” (Canonical, which makes the Linux distribution Ubuntu, has been helping Chrome OS take shape). In fact, Microsoft is unlikely to go on the attack at all.

First of all, Chrome OS is aimed solely at the netbook market, and it won’t arrive until late 2010, at which point Windows 7’s hold on the netbook market will have been building for a year. Google’s operating system, remember, is not targeting the desktop and server systems that represent the lion’s share part of Windows’ installed base.

Second, Microsoft is much less inclined to blast Linux and all things Linux-based than it used to be. Sure it has done so in the past, with Steve Ballmer even going so far as calling Linux “a cancer.” There are even those who produce alleged evidence that Microsoft trains Best Buy employees to trash Linux. But Linux doesn’t have enough market share for Microsoft to launch continuing, broad-based attacks on it, nor is it in the company’s best interest to do so. After all, if Microsoft can’t point to competitors to its operating systems, it risks getting back in trouble with the Department of Justice. In fact, Microsoft recently donated significant amounts of driver code to the Linux community — something it would never have done years ago.

Finally, as I wrote recently, Google is taking a number of large gambles with Chrome OS. It will work only with data in the cloud, for example, which may not be flexible enough for many users. Before we envision Microsoft fearing Google’s narrowcasted and possibly quite inflexible OS, Google has to prove that it can get an operating system aimed at computers (and not mobile phones) right — and support it well.  Those are tall orders, as Microsoft (and Apple) would be the first to point out.