Google eyes up Microsoft's lunch

The big news this morning, which must have had Steve Ballmer choking on his cornflakes, is that Google is about to go head-to-head with Microsoft, and launch its own operating system

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Google eyes up Microsoft's lunch
By  Mark Sutton Published  July 8, 2009

The big news this morning, which must have had Steve Ballmer choking on his cornflakes, is that Google is about to go head-to-head with Microsoft, and launch its own operating system.

The Chrome OS will initially target netbooks, no surprise as Google's  mobile OS, Android, is already cropping up on that form factor, and it stands out as one of the few hardware sectors still growing, but there's no indication of what Google is planning in the long term, and whether it aims to really go after Windows.

It will be interesting to see what Google comes up with. It's developers have a great opportunity to create a new OS from scratch rather than around legacy code. The performance of the Chrome browser was certainly an eye-opener when that launched, and Google said it is planning more of the same with an OS that can go from boot up to web browsing in a few seconds.

The question is whether Google has the intention or the capacity to go beyond that, and how far into the PC market it wants to go. The Chrome OS so far  sounds a bit too much like a glorified browser to me - which would suit the netbook form factor and usage model, but might end up as something of a niche product.

Netbooks are still selling, but there is already grumbling from consumers that they don't do everything they want - essentially, consumers have gotten used to a fully featured OS (mainly Windows, but could be Mac too). Recent US research found that 65% of 18-24 year olds who had bought a netbook expected better performance from it.

Netbooks are also still evolving in form factors and features, and with more hardware on a netbook, you need more software to run it. Microsoft will be making Windows 7 available on netbooks, so if that's going to be the battleground, Google will have to match what the Starter Edition of the new Windows can do.

The netbook sector could just be intended as a launch platform for moves into proper notebooks and desktops. OEMs have opened up more to the possibilities of non-Microsoft OSs, with Linux and Android on netbooks, but it has been a long road - Linux at the desktop hasn't really taken off, and Microsoft still claims that 90% of netbooks use Windows - a figure mirrored on notebooks and desktops. At a corporate level, Google has plenty of search users, but Google docs and Gmail haven't shown significant uptake. Taking significant, business desktop share with a netbook-oriented OS isn't going to happen.

Or maybe that's missing the point. Perhaps Google is looking to new paradigms of computing, where easy access to always-on services are all that matters. Its whole strategy around Google Docs, Chrome, Gears and so on has been make the browser king. Microsoft's 'everything plus the kitchen sink' versus Google's 'everything online' approach. It's going to be an interesting war.

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