The big news this week, of course, is that Google is developing its own Operating System dubbed Chrome OS. Cue the headlines about the search giant, once again, taking aim at Microsoft. And of course, on one level that’s absolutely correct. Just like any other newly launched OS needs to take market share away from Redmond in order to succeed. But it won’t be easy.
While Google says it wants to build an OS from the ground up in order to make it easier for users to get on the web and utilize web-based applications – and view more Google ads – managing user expectations will likely be the bigger challenge. For all the technical hurdles that Google will undoubtedly overcome – faster boot up times, greater security, support for next gen web standards (HTML 5 etc.) – weaning users off of Windows will be no easy task. The failure of existing Linux distros to become the defacto OS for Netbooks, despite getting a head start and backing from OEMs, doesn’t bode well for Chrome’s chances unless Google is able to redefine not just the OS but what users expect from their PCs.
Sure, I’d be happy buying a Netbook or Mobile Internet Device (MID), for Chrome OS will sensibly run on ARM-based chips not just Intel/AMD, knowing full well its purpose and limitations. I’m also, unlike 90+ % of the PC population, not emotionally or habitually tied to the Windows brand. But explaining to mass users why their iPod, printer, 3G dongle or whatever, doesn’t work properly on Chrome OS or why they can’t install Office or their favorite IM client, or simply why the UI looks a bit different, will be a hard sell. Google says it’s committed to web-based applications running on Chrome OS but it will inevitably be forced into supporting binary installations and/or to ship its own default ‘native’ apps for things like managing a music library/iPod syncing and multiple device drivers, if it’s to have any chance of winning over consumers.
That sounds a lot less like building an OS as a gateway to the web and more like building a traditional – kitchen sink an all – OS afterall.