Chrome on My Dome

OK, we know there's plans for a Google OS based on Chrome, and we're going to be hearing about for a year or so until it actually comes out.  There's going to be a lot of speculation, analysis, and theorizing done all over the internet.

Far be it from me, of course, to not do my own overblown analysis.  So here's where I see the Chrome OS going and what it means.

First, this is not a direct attack on windows – it's an indirect one at best.  The target is Netbooks, and my guess is netbook-like devices.  It's a lightweight, low-cost operating system that'll make netbooks even cheaper, while providing a convenient interface.

Google is NOT taking on Microsoft directly.  The OS in fact sounds very limited, with a browser-like interface, no X engine (the Linux windowing system), and it'll get most of it's apps via the web.  Chrome is more Android than it is Windows.

Of course it took a few people four hours to get Android running on a Netbook, and my guess is the Chrome system is going to be pretty much drop-and-run on any x86 system.  Also, as it is lightweight, Chrome is something that could probably be tossed on older systems with ease.

First Android and now Chrome says to me that Google is seeing what they can do OS wise, and building up to it.  By releasing things as Linux, an open-source tool, they cut costs, somewhat dilute a sense of monopology, and keep other companies (Microsoft, Apple) on edge. 

The Chrome OS says, to me "we can make a lightweight OS – wanna see us do a heavyweight one?"  If Chrome OS works out, then a Google-branded Linux, or Google making a deal with another Linux company, sounds feasible.

When you get down to it what Google does is deliver internet services and internet-based software.  That's it.  They have no install base per se, but they can be used by anyone.

Having people who are market-dominant in hardare and/or operating systems (Apple, Microsoft) is a danger to them because thet gives those companies a lot of influence over their users.  Google, of course, wouldn't like that.

Releasing Open Source OSes allows them to shake up those companies.  The operating systems may never achieve a majority market share, they don't need to – they keep the companies with the large bases in line and worried.  The use of Open Source helps shore up Google's geek credentials, and brings out that marvelous free/nearly free price level people like.

Google doesn't have to win.  They just have to make sure no one else does, or feels safe, and that there's always an open option for an OS – to get to their sites.

It's obvious Google is in the online app business, and wants to stay there.  Making sure there are OSes out there that allow for easy and cheap web access is good – and of course if they follow the web standards that Google itself does.  Google obviously wants to be a SaaS company as well, and having OSes that allow for easy access does that.

I don't think this is Google's only reason (see above), but it's obviously part of it – Google needs to make money.

Note that Google has embraced various web standards like HTML 5, etc.  Propigating browser-based oSes and browsers that follow the standards it wants forces others to consider those standards – and of course that means their browsers will run Google web applications.

If Google is on top in following and driving standards, they have a competitive advantage.

The biggest flaw I see in Chrome OS is that the browser is the interface.  This sounds very limiting for those of us used to windows and file systems.  How much "non-browser" interface is available will affect usefulness of the system for people, if they want to go beyond using the web.

If it's Linux and I can't use the vast amount of Linux software out there, then it's very limiting and could be damaging to adaption – or at least limit broader appeal.

So in conclusion:

  • Chrome OS is not a direct attack on Windows, but is an indirect one or a potential vanguard of one.
  • It's a strategy that keeps other companies on edge.
  • It lets Google continue it's SaaS strategy.
  • It lets Google leverage standards to their ends.
  • There's a risk it may be too limiting.

Think I could do an analysis without going to career thoughts?  Then you don't know me that well!

1) Chrome OS is going to be a factor, it has huge mindshare.  If you are in ANY field that uses computing or even touches on it – from gaming to accounting – it is going to be a factor (if only to say why you won't develop for it).  Follow this.
2) If you're a programmer, well it's Linux.  You hopefully can develop for Linux (and if not you should be learning to considering).  Mess around with it and gain some knowledge just in case you need it.
3) If you're involved in any field with heavy online presence, you'll want to study Chrome browser (and thus OS) compatibility in case this takes off – also follow the adaption of web standards.
4) Chrome OS will not make other OSes vanish.  Do NOT make it your major focus (though being good at Linux development sounds like a good idea).
5) There will be competition (Microsoft may be doing it's own super-lightweight OS).  This could keep things interesting and provide all sorts of marketing opportunities.6
6) This is good news for online media period – as more people can get to it cheaper.

– Steven Savage