Google have finally done what people have been expecting for years…they’re launching an Operating System  to compete with Windows, Mac, Linux and others, although after looking at the details, I don’t expect it to compete, except for a very niche market.
It’s been an exciting nine months since we launched the Google Chrome browser. Already, over 30 million people use it regularly. We designed Google Chrome for people who live on the web — searching for information, checking email, catching up on the news, shopping or just staying in touch with friends. However, the operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web. So today, we’re announcing a new project that’s a natural extension of Google Chrome — the Google Chrome Operating System. It’s our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be.
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.
Spiel sounds good apart from some odd factual errors (“the operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web” for starters), but here’s where it becomes incredibly niche. Unless you can find a web application to fulfil your needs, Chrome OS just isn’t for you.
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.
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.
So, no MS Office (which means no Outlook) which probably makes it unusable for the vast majority of business users. No Cool Edit or Audacity for the audio enthusiasts amongst us. No video editing software (but YouTube, being a “web application” will work…editing stuff to upload to YouTube won’t be so easy), no “insert name or type of non-web-application which you use everyday”.
Effectively, as Google said, it is “for people who live on the web”. If you do anything outside the web on your computer, it’s not for you.
The business model for Google is obvious. Move everything (or as close to everything as possible) on to the web, making more websites and applications which can carry Google ads. Actually getting web applications to a point where this will be feasible is going to be the problem for a couple reasons:
1. Google Docs: It has some useful features, but most businesses can’t replace MS Office with it because MS Office has so many more features and functions, that’s it’s just not funny to compare the two.
2. Security: If you think the Department of Defence are going to trust all of their secret data to a web-application, even if it’s one that they host themselves, you’ve got to be kidding.
For the moment at least, Chrome OS seems to be targeting the “I need Internet access everywhere, and either don’t want to use a phone to do so, or need slightly more functionality than I can get out of a phone” market…and frankly, it’s not a big market.
This needs to be spruced up a bit. Until then, it’s just another interesting experiment with an awful lot of money at-the-ready to keep it going.