DM CONFIDENTIAL — What do you do when you have completely decimated your formidable arch nemesis and prevented them from grabbing any truly meaningful foothold in one of the largest growth markets, in this case internet advertising?
Apparently, you begin an attack on their core business, the one that defined the company and created multiple billionaires in the process. That at least seems like Google’s strategy. Either that, or they decided they felt under-appreciated in the press and wanted the spotlight pointed their way. Either way, it worked. And, in typical Google fashion, the vast majority of the world would have found out about the company’s latest endeavor from its blog.
As the Official Google Blog states, “…we’re announcing a new project that’s a natural extension of Google Chrome — the Google Chrome Operating System.” For the layperson, i.e. me, Google’s mobile phone operating system, Android, would seem like a more natural extension for a computer-focued OS as opposed to a browser turned into an operating system. That “the operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web,” doesn’t naturally imply to me that a browser would thus make an intuitive infrastructure for an OS. But, I am old-school, thinking of operating systems as a means for hosted applications, whereas Google is most certainly not.
Google’s upcoming Chrome OS doesn’t go after Microsoft so much head-on as it does act like a railway switch. It focuses on a small but growing percentage of the computing market, netbooks, which according to ABI research, will see some 35 million computers shipped this year, rising to an estimated 139 million by 2013. And, despite the perception that Linux rules the operating system world on netbooks, Microsoft does. A PCWorld article claims that upwards of 90% of current netbooks run on a Windows based OS.
But, because netbooks, almost by definition, focus on activities reliant on the web, Google sees this as a natural extension of their territory. As Microsoft showed with the browser, own the operating system, and you can in many areas own your destiny (with the exception of search apparently). Google’s web browser has 30 million active users, but that represents only a fraction of the total browser population. And, much like Microsoft’s Bing, while a solid browser, it will not unseat the incumbents on its own. It needs leverage, and being the default browser on a computer is how you do that. Not that Google will publicly state the goal as such. Instead, you hear words like “speed,” “reliability,” and “security” not “market share,” “profit,” and “monopoly.”
We at least aren’t the only ones confused over Google’s explanation of their strategy, e.g. how Chrome OS “is being designed to power computers ranging from small netbooks to full-size desktop systems.” And that the folks at Google apparently “hear a lot from our users and their message is clear — computers need to get better.” Techdirt writes, for example, “Chrome itself still needs a ton of work. I’ve tried using it, and it’s crazy buggy and so unstable — I simply gave up and went back to Firefox. Jumping from just browser functionality to a full on OS before the browser code is really stable seems like a big leap.” And, “In fact, it was partly Netscape’s desire to take down Windows by making Netscape more OS-like that caused Netscape to get so bloated as to be nearly useless.”
One of the commenters made the best point, that Google Chrome OS doesn’t actually want to be an operating system. It just wants to get users online to Google, and netbooks, again, by virtue of being primarily dummy machines for online activities, provide the best expansion for doing so. Do users inundate Google saying how they “want to get to their email instantly, without wasting time waiting for their computers to boot and browsers to start up,” or is it more that Google wants them to get to their properties without others potentially gaining access?
One of the bigger intellectual debates centers on just how much this move is designed towards attacking Microsoft versus operating on their own agenda for growth. Perhaps the two are intertwined. The Wall Street Journal has a great piece exploring early meetings at Google along with CEO Schmidt’s background in desktop computing. While we may not know the answer to their motivation for some time, one thing we can assume though about the new operating system is that Google will undoubtedly do some smart things to bridge the traditional gap between online and offline, which to date has meant having certain files on the computer and certain online.
And, it is both scary and brilliant or even scary brilliant to think of a computer where you login to the machine using your Google account. In addition, with Google running as the operating system, all of a sudden so many of their half-successful products seem to make more sense. Much of why they didn’t succeed came down to scale, but if they become the de facto programs for users, that issue goes away.
Equally important to their success comes from Google making the operating system open source. Instead of only relying on internal developers they can tap into an incredibly passionate, almost invaluable pool of talent. Just look at what that did for Firefox, and if Google Chrome OS can make that kind of headway in the OS market, watch out Microsoft indeed. Lastly, Google benefits from timing. They undoubtedly wanted to do this years ago, regardless of Microsoft, but the web technology simply wasn’t there. It’s why so many Web 2.0 successes are just remakes of older ideas, succeeding because the products can match the vision.
Good or bad, Google Chrome OS succeeds only if the major hardware manufacturers use it. That will be a hard battle with leverage going towards Microsoft. If only the Google Chrome logo didn’t remind us of the game Simon or resemble a creepy all seeing eye. Oh wait, it is.
Courtesy of DM Confidential editor