Google blogged Tuesday night about a new project, the Google Chrome Operating System. Highlights include:
- Open source
- Targeted to appear in netbooks in the second half of 2010
- Google Chrome browser + new windowing system + Linux kernel
- Minimal user interface
- Data stored or at least backed up in the cloud, and hence available on any computer
- Hardware compatibility hassles allegedly eliminated
- Ditto for software update hassles
- Ditto for security problems
- Apps apparently assumed to run inside the browser. (Not clear if this is required or just recommended.)
Obviously, Google Chrome OS is a direct attack on Microsoft — even more so than Google Wave, which I’ve predicted will “play merry hell with Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SharePoint, and more,” or for that matter than Google Mail and the rest of Google Apps. Taken together, Google’s initiatives suggest that an all-out Google-Microsoft war is coming, in a conflict that many people have been expecting — and analyzing — for years.
So how will this all shake out? Well, let’s start with some basic points:
- Google Chrome OS Release 1 is expected over a year from now, and then only on a limited subset of PCs, namely netbooks.
- Google Chrome OS Release 1 is supposed to have great performance and be bullet-proof. Hmm …
- Google is evidently assuming that the apps people want to run will either be browser-based, or else be new ones written for Chrome OS. Hmm …
- Google is signaling that Chrome OS will be very limited in features. That makes sense for Release 1 — but what will be missing?
- Consumers have proven their willingness to buy non-Microsoft computers, especially Apple ones, specifically in the Mac and iPhone/iTouch product lines.
- A lot of people would have compatibility issues replacing Microsoft Excel or PowerPoint with partially-compatible alternatives. I’m not so sure about Microsoft Word, however. Other than those three, Outlook, and the Windows family itself, I’m not aware of any Microsoft client products that have much lock-in. (Well, maybe Xbox, but that’s not in the main stack.)
- Open source software often gets most of its community support in a couple of areas, namely compatibilities and language translation. Google probably doesn’t need the help in languages, but letting other people fix Chrome OS compatibility issues whose importance it didn’t recognize is potentially valuable.
- Google probably won’t make any direct revenue from Chrome OS. So how much will it invest in the project?
- Notwithstanding Danny Sullivan’s concern, there isn’t much of an antitrust issue here. Google’s search can’t easily be used to favor Chrome, Chrome OS, or Google Apps. And the other way around — e.g., using Chrome OS to favor search — Google clearly isn’t a monopolist.
So while Google may kill Microsoft’s client business some day, it clearly won’t happen for quite a while, Techcrunch’s excitement notwithstanding. We’re talking a multi-year effort before there’s any realistic chance of Microsoft being toppled. On the other hand, it’s hard to think of major software compatibility issues that won’t quickly be addressed, except Microsoft’s own product and, probably, MMO games — assuming, of course, Chrome OS gets enough initial traction for anybody to care. So intermediate- and long-term, Microsoft’s PC business is very vulnerable indeed.
The bulk of Google’s announcement follows (emphasis added):
Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks. Later this year we will open-source its code, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010. Because we’re already talking to partners about the project, and we’ll soon be working with the open source community, we wanted to share our vision now so everyone understands what we are trying to achieve.
Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We’re designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don’t have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work.
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. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies. And of course, these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform.
Google Chrome OS is a new project, separate from Android. Android was designed from the beginning to work across a variety of devices from phones to set-top boxes to netbooks. Google Chrome OS is being created for people who spend most of their time on the web, and is being designed to power computers ranging from small netbooks to full-size desktop systems. While there are areas where Google Chrome OS and Android overlap, we believe choice will drive innovation for the benefit of everyone, including Google.
We hear a lot from our users and their message is clear — computers need to get better. People want to get to their email instantly, without wasting time waiting for their computers to boot and browsers to start up. They want their computers to always run as fast as when they first bought them. They want their data to be accessible to them wherever they are and not have to worry about losing their computer or forgetting to back up files. Even more importantly, they don’t want to spend hours configuring their computers to work with every new piece of hardware, or have to worry about constant software updates. And any time our users have a better computing experience, Google benefits as well by having happier users who are more likely to spend time on the Internet.
We have a lot of work to do, and we’re definitely going to need a lot of help from the open source community to accomplish this vision. We’re excited for what’s to come and we hope you are too. Stay tuned for more updates in the fall and have a great summer.