Google Chrome OS Will Reshape Desktop Landscape

Google Chrome OS Will Reshape Desktop Landscape
So Google is jumping into the operating system business, taking on not only nemesis Microsoft but also the idea that applications are typically made to run on the desktop. Here are some thoughts on how this might change the desktop landscape.

Watch out Apple. While much coverage of this news is focusing on the threat to Microsoft's desktop OS dominance, at the outset the biggest loser may be the Mac OS.

Those looking for a desktop OS alternative to Windows typically consider two options: Mac OS X or a traditional Linux flavor. Linux, despite advocates' claim to the contrary, is still daunting to most non power users due to issues like networking and peripheral drivers. Mac, meanwhile, has two chief drawbacks: fewer available applications (not an issue to many consumers) and costly hardware. It's no accident that Microsoft's most successful Windows ad campaign doesn't even talk about software anymore, but rather comparative hardware costs.

If there were a version of the Mac OS that ran on non-Apple hardware, I'm not sure Google would have seen the same market opening for a new operating system. But there isn't, and Google Chrome OS is likely to be targeting the same audience as Mac OS X -- those looking for a Windows alternative -- while offering a platform that runs on more affordable hardware.

Windows 7 pricing, terms likely to get more attractive. Expect Microsoft to think twice about how much it thinks it can charge for various versions of Windows 7, especially if Google's OS looks like it's gaining market traction. Expect Microsoft to be more receptive to complaints from Vista Ultimate users that they weren't given a better, less expensive upgrade path, and come up with some interesting terms for a Win 7 "family pack."

Netbooks are a wise beachhead for a Google OS. Power desktop users may initially balk at the idea of ceding application control to the cloud, but those same people might be less resistant on a netbook. Netbook users probably expect (and use) fewer apps, and getting rid of resource-hogging Windows antivirus software might be a welcome upside if the Google OS is, as promised, simple, secure and speedy.

Large companies are unlikely first customers, except as small experiments. I don't see major IT organizations happily ditching their Windows-based software in order to turn control of the desktop over to Google. While a Google OS is likely to gain entry in small numbers at large corporations as people check out the newcomer, large-scale adoption is unlikely unless and until the OS proves it has enterprise-class management capabilities. However, those small businesses with limited application needs might be more interested, especially if cost and maintenance are both low.

College students are a likely market. Today's students are mobile in ways that those even five years ago couldn't imagine, and they're less likely to be concerned whether an application is on their desktop or over the Web.

Sun flashback. It looks like Google is trying to bring to fruition that Sun Microsystems mantra, "the network is the computer."

Would Google dominance be any better than Microsoft's? In the short run, this announcement adds to the OS competitive landscape and is likely to encourage Microsoft to give better terms to those opting for Windows 7. Plus, it's unlikely Google can make a short-term dent in Windows' gargantuan desktop OS market share. However, Google already has a great deal of control over the search-engine market, and thus has become a prime director of traffic around the Web. Despite Google's now-cliched "do no evil" corporate mantra, the idea of a single company controlling the desktop, the application and the data is not without concern. It will be interesting to see whether the open-source community welcomes Google's entry into the OS arena or has concern about the company's growing reach.

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