Wed 8 Jul 2009
Everyone is a-flutter this morning about Google's announcement: the rumors are true, and they are developing a new operating system after all. It's called the Google Chrome OS, and it's going to be targeted at netbooks. Netbooks are those cheap, light laptops that are designed to connect to the internet and that's about all.
When Google makes any kind of big announcement the tech. world sits at attention and listens carefully. TechCrunch says Google just dropped a nuclear bomb on Microsoft. This one, however, is a big fat yawn. Google will release an OS, a small group of dedicated Google-fanatics will use it, and then it will die a slow and steady death. Here's why:
- Google is good at search. Easy, one-step search. Fast and easy search has become so important to everyone, across every demographic and level of expertise that Google has become the verb to describe that action. But operating systems are not like search. Operating systems for netbooks are even less like search. More importantly, all those people who understand fast and easy search are not interested in OSs, and they've never heard of netbooks.
- "Hey, wait!" you say. "Google isn't stupid. They know a netbook OS isn't for the masses. This is about Google promoting its brand and its products. It's the same strategy as Android." Well, I say, it may be the same strategy, but mobile OS and netbook OS are very different. There are only a handful of mobile OSs. There are dozens of OS distributions (flavors of Linux), many of which are targeted to netbooks. Google can't compete with that. No matter how much $$ and development time they throw at their OS, they'll need a dedicated community of developers and testers. And they'll need to steal them from another open source project. The Google carries a lot of weight, but it can't carry that load.
- An operating system doesn't take advantage of Google's core competencies. They have two. First, search. Second, efficient use of massive (and massively distributed) servers. GMail, Docs, etc. make sense because they integrate with search and capitalize on Google's massive server load. A netbook OS does neither.
From my POV, this is just another bit of Google casting around in search of more footholds. Eventually they'll find one, but it won't be operating systems, and it won't be browsers. (Depending on who you ask, Google Chrome is languishing at between 1 and 3% market share.) It may be that these efforts, even if they're incrementally beneficial, are useful enough for Google to push them. Convert a few developers, get some buzz, develop technology with multiple uses. That's fine. But let's not call it a nuclear bomb. A world with Google Chrome OS will look almost exactly like a world without it.