Much Needed Competition for Windows

Just what Windows needs - a bit of competition.    I don't consider the Apple real competition, because it requires proprietary hardware to run.  And Linux is way too geeky and not packaged well for the average NOOB, though some netbooks have done surprisingly well with it.  Today, however, Google announced a browser-based OS built on top of Linux and entirely open source.  Might not be my cup of Darjeeling, as I am skeptical of a browser dominated OS for anything larger than a phone, but it sure may keep Windows honest.

Google had a low-key event today to preview Chrome OS, its new operating system based on Linux and the Chrome browser. Things are still pretty early -- it's not even in beta yet, let alone on shipping products -- but that's the first official screen shot right there, and the big features are all roughed out. The entire system is web-based and runs in the Chrome browser -- right down to USB drive contents, which show up in a browser tab, and the notepad, which actually creates a Google Docs document. Web apps are launched from a persistent apps panel, which includes Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, and Hulu, among others, and background apps like Google Talk can be minimized to "panels" that dock to the bottom of the screen. Local storage is just used to speed up the system -- everything actually lives in the cloud, so all it takes to swap or borrow machines is a login, and you're good to go. Google also said it's "very committed" to Flash, and that it's looking to hardware accelerate whatever code it can -- although Google didn't have a solid answer to give when asked about Silverlight. Overall, Google was upfront in saying that Chrome OS is focused on very clear use cases for people who primarily use the web, and that it's not trying to do everything: "If you're a lawyer, editing contracts back and forth, this will not be the right machine for you."

  • morganovich

    it's going to be very interesting to see what happens when Microsoft buys one of the next generation of web 2.0 based advertising targeting companies and "keeps google honest" too...

    viva la competition!

  • Doug

    I don't get it. The PC requires proprietary hardware to run, too. You just prefer one proprietary chunk of hardware over another.

  • Rob

    @Doug
    I would hardly call it proprietary. PC manufacturers might use some proprietary parts for branding (like cases), or a bios with branding added, but for the most part, each component can be swapped with something else that isn't branded. I applaud Microsoft for their OS' huge support of hardware. This just isn't the case with Apple's OSX.

    People need to start realizing the power of cloud computing. It is an evolutionary step in computing where multiple web 2.0 technologies are coming together and emerging a whole new way of computing. This will be revolutionary for business. If you think IT outsourcing is bad now, wait until all your hardware is absorbed by the cloud. It will save a significant amount of money for businesses. No longer will companies need huge IT staffs, they will hire a "Cloud Admin" which will supply all the companies IT resources!

  • anon

    Warren,

    Don't dismiss a browser based OS out of hand. Google realizes that most folks browse the interest and do some light powerpoint, text editing, spreadsheets, etc.

    That's why they came out with web-based equivalents...which fits in with a browser-based OS.

    Leaving out the gamers for now (although they, to, could go web-based sooner or later), Google is positioning itself quite nicely, while mostly avoiding a crucial weakness in Microsoft's business model.

    What weakness? Well, I still run XP and Office 2003 on my home machine. No reason to update = no revenue.

  • http://evilredscandi.blogspot.com Evil Red Scandi

    Actually, Chrome OS requires proprietary hardware too. Its source code will be available for download, but binaries will only be provided pre-installed on hardware from select manufacturers. There are some strict and unusual requirements also, the first being no magnetic or optical media (Solid-state drives only). There will be very limited support for local storage, and 3rd-party application support that makes the iPhone look free and easy.

    The kindest possible analysis is that it may be way ahead of its time. What this really reminds me of are the "web / e-mail-only" devices that plugged straight into your phone line and simplified Internet access for Grandma and Grandpa and were going to be really really huge right up to the moment that nobody bought them because they were one-trick ponies that were obsolete 15 minutes after you opened the box (assuming your package arrived via FedEx).

  • http://mjb.biglaughs.org m

    I'm not sure the Chrome OS qualifies as competition for Windows. A competitor would need to be a substitute, at some level. I have a really difficult time seeing any serious business substituting Chrome for Windows in the next 25 to 30 years.

  • http://www,tinyvital.com/blog John Moore

    Although I agree that Linux is too geeky for most folks, that is changing. The Ubuntu Linux project produces a pretty usable Linux, and it's aesthetics are outstanding. Ubuntu is a charitable effort by a South African billionaire to provide inexpensive computing to poor people. Hence they are putting a lot into usability - but they aren't there yet.

    Right now ChromeOS reminds me too much of a Kindle. Cloud computing is important, but if it is too proprietary, then you may be stuck with a vendor who does things you don't like.

  • anon

    ERScandi,

    Yes, but wait a few years, most likely not decades.

    Google's beachhead is mobile PDAs and phones. D-Day, if you will. The long-term goal is for dominance across the market.

    I think Google is positioning themselves for a future market that may or may not have mobile computing as the dominant platform.

    I think they've got a very flexible plan.

  • Doug

    @Rob: Then why does Microsoft staff labs that do nothing but certify that said hardware and/or software will work with Windows? Rather than, say, Linux? It's proprietary because Microsoft makes it so. You're simply willing to live with this proprietary architecture because it offers you a lot of choices, something Mac users don't cherish as much as you do. (And there are some who argue that Apple should be branded as a "monopoly"!)

    As for cloud computing, the Sidekick data crash debacle last month amply demonstrated its Achilles heal: data safety. I'll never let some unknown entity store my data. NEVER!

  • Daran

    I finally switched to Firefox as it has a decent ad-blocker. If Microsoft wanted to target Googles revenue, they would put in better support for ad-blockers in IE plus better isolation so that cookies can not be used to track your reading habits.

  • Rob

    @Doug
    Hardware compatibility != hardware proprietary.
    Microsoft certifies their software for certain hardware because it helps with both sales and support.
    The more hardware, the bigger the customer base. The more detailed hardware list, the better support for businesses (or denial of support for un-certified hardware).

    I'm sure T-Mobile must be paying a huge price for the lost data. I've seen data server failures, but there has always been a backup. For the Sidekick guys to make a production change without a backup is just insane. Obviously it can happen, but so can a plane crash... I still fly. These types of complete data losses, through human error, will be a thing of the past. With Cloud computing, multiple redundant copies will live in different physical locations, that is just part of the underlying infrastructure which is emerging now.

  • http://flyingfishbarandgrill.blogspot.com Flyfish

    One month in Windows 7 still isn't a train wreck. I've been running it since the RC came out and it cured all the problems I had on a gateway that came with Vista and a sickening helping of gateway's revenue enhancing bloatware. Google can do what they like and I'm sure it'll have a market but for those of us who prefer a real operating system windows, linux or mac os are the choices. The only reason mac os requires 'proprietary hardware' is that it isn't the real product, the Mac hardware is Apple's mainstream, their OS is just part of locking in their hideously expensive 'solution' and giving the Mac community something to feel good about while they're getting fleeced. Mac OS can run on any wintel compatible platform with some fairly simple hacks to take out the Apple lockdown bits. As far as linux goes those in need of 'user friendly' need look no further than Ubuntu. I'm far more interested in the droid's competition with the blackberry and the iPhone.