Chrome OS: A Google strike at the very heart of Microsoft

Google has announced that there will now be a “viable third choice” in computer operating systems, in addition to Microsoft’s Windows and Apple’s Mac OS, via their newly-launched Chrome OS.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt announced in San Francisco on Tuesday that the company’s new operating system will be available on netbooks, to be released by Acer and Samsung around the middle of next year.

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Chrome OS is based on the company’s successful Chrome browser, which claims to have 120-million users worldwide with a market share of around 13% (Statscounter).

A browser-OS development has been a long-time coming and makes a whole lot of sense. As Google’s VP of Product Management Sundar Pichai says: People now “live in the browser”. Most computer users spend their time browsing and using web applications rather than working from their desktop. This migration has been accelerated by the onward march of broadband, innovations in code and the general efficiency of having centralised, cloud-based applications.

But Pichai says that the key part about Chrome OS actually “has nothing to do with the web”. He says Google wanted to “rethink the personal computing experience for the web. Chrome OS is nothing but the web… Chrome running on hardware directly”.

The browser wars revisited
We have known for some time now that our computing experience would eventually move into the browser, in fact almost since the birth of the internet itself. One of the world’s first web browsers, Netscape, prematurely declared during the browser wars of the mid 90s that our desktop would be replaced by the browser, then throwing down the gauntlet to the mighty Microsoft.

The software giant reacted swiftly by creating its own internet browser, Internet Explorer, which was then bundled with Windows. Netscape was obliterated from a position of complete market dominance to utter ruin in a period of about six years, making Explorer the dominant browser it is today. The rest is history and Netscape remains a part of the internet in history only (and to some extent in Firefox).

But this time it’s different. The future, predicted by the Netscape founders all those years ago, has now arrived. And this time the challenger is no upstart. It is the powerful Google, an empire itself, and a worthy challenger.

The new Chrome OS strikes at the very essence of what Microsoft is about. It is a play right into the Redmond company’s backyard.

The internet vs software
But this is not about two companies trying to destroy each other, it’s about two fundamentally different approaches to computing. Google is a company born in the internet era. It is an internet company. Microsoft is a pre-internet era company that has, by its own high standards, struggled to compete with Google when it comes to the web. Now Google is using the web to strike at Microsoft’s crown jewels: Windows.

For Google it’s a realisation of the cloud computing dream, a purely internet-based computing experience.

Says Pichai: “For us, it is a long journey building a true cloud computing model… that is what we are working on.”

“Not only is this the right time to build these products, but because they work they will be very successful,” says Google chief executive Eric Schmidt. “Cloud computing will define computing as we all know it in the coming decades.”

Google, which announced it was working on Chrome OS last year, say its already begun releasing an unbranded notebook computer to businesses and consumers as part of a pilot programme.

Organisations that have already signed on to take part in the programme include the US Department of Defense as well as Kraft, American Airlines and Virgin America. Google has also partnered with US telecom titan Verizon to provide wireless broadband connections for Chrome notebooks.

At the launch on Tuesday, Pichai also demonstrated the Chrome Web Store, intended to connect developers and end users. App buying appears to be simple and purchasing is done through the user’s Google Checkout account.

Like its Chrome browser, no Google account is required to use Chrome OS. To be part of Google’s pilot programme, companies may apply.

With additional reporting via AFP

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