Google announced yesterday that it has an open-source operating system for PCs in development that shares the same name as the company's browser: Chrome.
The Chrome OS announcement generated more buzz than a swarm of bees and has been called an OS market game-changer by some in the blogosphere. A Google blog post heralding Chrome OS offers a direct challenge at nemesis Microsoft and will raise some eyebrows in Redmond.
In the post, Google provides some details about Chrome OS, including: it is separate from mobile OS Android; it is targeted at netbooks; it will run on both x86 and ARM microprocessors; and it will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010.
But should Microsoft feel truly threatened by Google's shot across the bow? Not right now, say industry watchers. Too many factors are working against Google to make real inroads at this time.
Five key obstacles face Google as it prepares to get in the PC operating system game.
It's Just a Netbook OS
Google has framed the Chrome OS as fast and lightweight. It will use the Web as its platform, which is perfect for the growing netbook market, but not enough to take on Microsoft is a serious fashion, say industry analysts.
Roger Kay, veteran analyst and president of research firm Endpoint Technologies, says Google's Chrome OS will not be much of a threat to Microsoft if the OS is not equipped to manage hardware.
"Google will need years to build up the library of device drivers to really take over the hardware world," Kay says. "Google's view is that all you need to see is a pane of glass - a browser window - to look through, but a real OS has to manage hardware as well."
Long-time software analyst and ZDNet blogger Dennis Howlett agrees that Chrome's potential to steal market share from Windows has been blown out of proportion.
He writes in a recent blog post: "The initial target seems to be the netbook, but I don't see how anyone can realistically extrapolate that to world dominance of the entire PC market, let alone the crucially important server market."
Even Netbooks Not a Sure Thing
Howlett goes on to question Chrome's ability to succeed in the netbook market itself.
He writes: "Linux has not fared so well in the netbooks market and I don't see anything here that makes me think Google Chrome OS will do any better."
Al Gillen, analyst at research firm IDC, has reservations about whether the Google name alone is enough to turn mainstream users on to Linux. "The real question is can the Linux distro powering the Google Chrome OS be hugely successful where other Linux distros have not been hugely successful?"
Another analyst, Tim Bajarin, president of consulting firm Creative Strategies, says Chrome OS will be challenged by the widespread need for Windows compatibility.
"Consumers have already told us that they expect netbooks to act just like any other notebook and support all the Windows apps and peripherals on the market," Bajarin says.
It's Shipping Too Late
Google says the Chrome OS will not be available to consumers until the second half of 2010, giving Windows 7 (scheduled to ship on Oct. 22) nearly a year to settle into the market.
In a blog post, veteran Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley, who stresses that the Chrome OS will be good for OS innovation and competition, writes that she is still dubious that Chrome will be a player anytime soon. One of the main reasons is that Google is waiting too long to launch.
"Google Chrome OS is shipping in the second half of 2010? And people criticize Microsoft for pre-announcing vaporware by years? Late 2010 is eons from now in the computing world," Foley writes.
The Enterprise Runs on Microsoft
ZDNet's Howlett says it has taken many years for enterprise buyers to even consider bringing Linux in house. This will be a big challenge for Google with Chrome OS, he says.
"No enterprise buyer I know will go within a country mile of committing its users to something at that level of maturity," writes Howlett. "An enterprise still wants a throat to choke. In offering Chrome OS as open source, Google has effectively washed its hands of responsibility to maintain. Who will pick up the cudgels?"
The enterprise remains Microsoft's bread and butter, its biggest franchise. And that's not likely to change soon.
Too Many Open-Source Chefs in the Kitchen
In its decision to make Chrome open source, Google is signing on to let people alter and revise the source code. At high level like this, can a vendor afford to give away that much control?
ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley thinks not. "As Apple has shown quite well, when one vendor controls both the computer hardware and software, and doesn't let anyone else touch it, a PC has more cohesiveness and less crapware," she writes.
Foley adds that Microsoft quite successfully allows OEMs to customize Windows PCs, but does not allow the OEMs to tinker with the operating system.
"How many different Chrome OSes will there be? Who will be the entity users call when they have OS problems?" writes Foley.
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