Google OS Poses Double Whammy Threat to Microsoft

by Chris Howard Jul 08, 2009

About this time I should have already posted today's piece, Google made a surprise, albeit long rumored, announcement it is developing a desktop operating system and intending to release it in 2010.

According to Google, the Google Chrome OS is the natural extension of the Google Chrome browser:

We designed Google Chrome for people who live on the web — searching for information, checking email, catching up on the news, shopping or just staying in touch with friends. However, the operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web. So today, we're announcing a new project that's a natural extension of Google Chrome — the Google Chrome Operating System. It's our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be.

Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks.

Google Chrome OS will run on both x86 as well as ARM chips and we are working with multiple OEMs to bring a number of netbooks to market next year. The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform.

A Google OS has long been rumored, with OS News for example theorizing on it four years ago and, rather impressively, predicting it by 2010.  But with Google's attention on mobile devices via the development of Android OS, a Google desktop OS had drifted off the rumor radar.

The Threat to Microsoft

Netbooks are the fastest growing segment of the desktop market at the moment and one that is icing on the cake for Microsoft. In dollar terms it could cope with large loss of market share in the netbook market. The problem is the ramifications if the Google OS philosophy gains too strong a foothold.

Netbooks have captured the public's imagination but I've often predicted their imminent demise. They fall into a difficult middle ground of confused identity. Too small to be a decent laptop, too large to drop in your pocket. For those reasons, you see many on eBay, especially with owners trading up to larger sized laptops.

Purchasers had been buying netbooks expecting more of them. This in itself could have been due to the presence of Windows.

Google's approach, defining it as a web device, could help give netbooks their own identity, with no confusion from perspective buyers about the netbook's role in the technology hierarchy.

With that established, a Google netbook would then come at Microsoft with its more dangerous weapon - the Google productivity apps. Not only have you then weaned users off Microsoft OS, but you've also plunged a knife into its cash cow, Microsoft Office.

As that quote says, Google is initially aiming at netbooks. Once that ground is secure it will then look to conquer the broader desktop market. And with the public's mindest prized free of Microsoft that may be easier than expected.

It should be noted, the Google OS, being web-based, as currently described, would still only be able to take a limited chunk of the desktop market as many people still run larger apps, like movie editing, that are still a few years away from being viable as a web app.

The Threat to Apple

With the Google Chrome OS initially aimed at netbooks, Apple's desktop market is under no more threat than it is from Linux or Windows based netbooks. However, if Apple does enter the netbook market itself, then it could get a little interesting. On the flip side though, if Apple does enter the netbook market, it will be with a device intended to redefine netbooks. 

Of course, by aiming this as a web-based desktop OS, Google is attempting to redefine the netbook also. So, we could end up with an interesting arm wrestle over what netbooks should become.

Microsoft has a lot more to lose than Apple from Google's entry into the OS market. Most market share gained by Google would come directly from Microsoft. But it's the double whammy, the shifting of people's mindset away from Microsoft Office, which poses the greater threat to Microsoft.

If Apple plays its cards right, it can tiptoe around the periphery of this bun fight and come out relatively unscathed but Microsoft could come out hemorrhaging 



  • No threat. Just another windowing system on Linux, there to compete with KDE, Gnome and XFCE, plus all the other versions out there. That means they’re just going to take another slice out of the small slice currently owned by Red Hat, Canonical et al.

    evilcat had this to say on Jul 08, 2009 Posts: 66
  • Most of Microsoft’s customers for OS and Office are businesses, not consumers.  Google OS would have no major impact on that.

    Khürt Williams had this to say on Jul 08, 2009 Posts: 45
  • “Netbooks are the fastest growing segment of the desktop market at the moment….”

    A profoundly irrelevant comment without a context.  Being the fastest growing means almost nothing if it is rocketing from a 0.01% market share to a 0.02% market share.

    And “desktop market”...  Isn’t the point of netbooks that they are something different? I don’t know a single client of ours who uses a netbook on their business desk - or even at home.

    MichaelLinehan had this to say on Jul 08, 2009 Posts: 1
  • “Netbooks are the fastest growing segment of the desktop market at the moment….”

    So when discussing netbooks in terms of competing with Apple in the low-end space, “Netbooks are such pieces of crap and they’re just a fad that’s going to die out by this afternoon.”

    But when discussing taking marketshare away from Microsoft, “OMG!  Netbooks are so ‘the shit’ right now!”

    Google OS sounds like it could be a really promising solution for the netbook space, but it seems like it would run basically like a browser extention, since any app for Chrome OS would work in any compliant browser on any platform.

    Also, I’m sure it would make heavy use of the cloud, but I hope they build in a really solid off-line mode as well.  I love Google docs and spreadsheet, but I haven’t liked the implementation of their offline mode too much.  If that gets better, I definitely see myself shifting away from the Office/Pages desktop app paradigm permanently.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jul 08, 2009 Posts: 2220
  • Forget netbooks.  Google is looking to the future.  The netbook will die.  But it will be replaced by portable internet devices.  Think of the iPod Touch.  There is a lot of room in this market.  Think 8” - 10” tablets.  This is what Google is looking at.

    jocknerd had this to say on Jul 08, 2009 Posts: 23
  • Google is wishful thinking…

    Do you really think a search company (however big) can really be focused on supporting a browser and an OS to compete with OSX or even Windows 7?

    Granted, G took the easy route by sugarcoating a Linux kernel with a homebrew GUI and a patch of open-source frameworks like WebKit to reach time-to-market faster than, say, a ground-up design like OSX. How is this different from Ubuntu or Fedora? Those OSes has been claiming big ever since. Nice to experiment with but you always end up asking yourself, “Now what…?”

    Do you really think this Chrome OS even has slim chance of defeating the Big 2 in desktop/mobile OS? OSX is lightyears more advanced than anything out there and even more so with the next release - Snow Leopard. Even Windows 7 has so far surpassed everyone’s expectation of a Vista SP.

    We know that OSX/Unix was designed to be “modular” from the bottom-up and the frameworks in Snow Leopard such as Grand Central will enable seamless 32/64-bit transitions. It will be totally transparent to the top layers - meaning apps and you.

    Quicktime X will take advantage of latent GPU power and in-built H.264 decoding hardware (CUDA?).

    So, my question to you is, do you really think Google Chrome OS will be the OSX and Windows 7 killer?

    I am very doubful, Chris.

    Robomac had this to say on Jul 10, 2009 Posts: 846
  • As if to back up my idea that Google Chrome OS poses an indirect threat to MS Office. Fortune mag has announced Microsoft will be releasing a free online version of Office.

    We’ll have to wait confirmation from MS, but if true, would certainly suggest MS is trying to head any Google threats off at the pass. And I reckon one of those threats to Office comes via Chrome OS and the Google productivity apps.

    It’ll be interesting to see how Apple responds to these two developments.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Jul 14, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • I agree with Khürt Williams. Now we can see how poor system is Google OS.
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