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Google’s Chrome OS: Not the first Web-based OS

The way the news debuted yesterday with a giant splash, you might have thought that Google's newly-announced Chrome OS Web-based operating system is the first of its kind.

Actually, it isn't.

There certainly have been experiments and even product launches in the Web-based computer operating system marketplace before. These smaller, faster, Web-centric operating systems are made especially to power smaller, nimbler and easily transportable Web-enabled devices like Netbook computers.

The big difference here is that not one of those upstarts has Google's muscle, name recognition or money behind them. And that's what makes the Google Chrome OS announcement huge, which essentially changes the landscape instantly.

So who are the others already doing this? That's where this gets interesting.

Most consumers haven't heard of most of these Web-based operating systems before because they‘re the work of small companies that don't just sell their stuff in Best Buy or Staples stores. And others are the result of open source software development projects -- no one owns or sells the software code, but it's created, patched, and fine-tuned by volunteer developers around the globe who like to build quality software in collaboration with others.Those open source products are then made available for free to anyone who wants to use them.

They're companies like Phoenix Technologies in Milpitas, California, which offers its HyperSpace operating system, DeviceDM in San Jose, which offers its Splashtop product, and Paris-based Jolicloud, which offers the Jolicloud operating system.

The open source projects include eyeOS, AstraNOS, and CMYOS.

What's their reaction to Google's big Chrome OS splash?

Well, we couldn't reach every one of the competing companies and projects to get their thoughts about it, but we did hear from Woody Hobbs, the president and CEO of Phoenix Technologies, the makers of the HyperSpace OS.

"It is great that Google has validated our vision and is bringing an alternative (to Microsoft) operating system to Netbooks and Nettops," Hobbs wrote in an e-mail.

"We support all platforms and standards in this space," he wrote.

The company even makes HyperSpace available as a consumer download that includes instant access to the Internet and an office applications suite, including word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software. Hobbs said that his company has been in this marketplace for ten years.

In the end, I think that Hobbs laid out the scenario very well. His company, other vendors, and open source projects have been working on this Web-based OS concept for several years, and have even had some successes.

That is great for them, but in those ten years, I bet far fewer people have heard of any of those Web-OS products than have all the consumers around the world who heard about Google Chrome OS in just the 24 hours since its announcement yesterday.

And that's why Google right at this moment is likely to be the king of this forest.

So how long will the king live?

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