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Google's Chrome OS May Cloud Microsoft's Windows

Google's Chrome OS May Cloud Microsoft's Windows

Google may not be ready to arm-wrestle Microsoft in the operating system arena, but its Web-based, open source Chrome OS will surely create some consternation in Redmond. Although Google is "just nibbling at the fringes of Microsoft," according to Laura DiDio, principal analyst at ITIC, its Chrome OS "will have good adoption in the consumer space. It's lightweight, Internet-based. Google's on a roll."

By Rob Spiegel
12/08/10 10:21 AM PT

What's the difference between a browser and an operating system? Or, can Google take on Microsoft is its sweet spot -- the Windows operating system? Google held a press conference in San Francisco Tuesday announcing Google Chrome OS, an Internet-based operating system that has been launched in beta version on a laptop known simply as "Cr-48." By next summer, both Acer and Samsung will release laptops with Chrome OS and Intel chips.

During the presentation by Google CEO Eric Schmidt and a number of product managers, Schmidt admitted he was at first vehemently against Google developing a browser, but Larry and Sergey insisted. Now that browser has morphed into a full open source operating system.

Google has invited users to participate in the beta period for Chrome OS. Anyone interested can go to the pilot program page to apply to participate in the beta testing. The company is looking for individuals who are willing to use the notebook as their primary computer and respond to queries about the product's effectiveness. Google is looking for students, business people, and those involved in nonprofit organizations. Those who are selected will receive a Cr-48 notebook, all black, without logos.

Chrome Web Store

Google also opened its Chrome Web Store on Tuesday. Developers have already started to upload apps. Right now, the store is only available in the United States, but Google noted it will expand to more countries and currencies early in 2011. Google notes the store will be featured prominently in Chrome, and it's designed to help people find apps and help developers reach millions of users.

Google also announced the number of Chrome users has swelled from 40 million to 120 million in the past year. The company attributes the popularity of Chrome to its speed.

Competition With Microsoft

With a notebook operating system, Google has moved deeper into Microsoft territory than it ventured with its mobile Android OS.

"You could argue they're going after Microsoft, but they are not doing it head-to-head," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

"They're aiming to present businesses and consumers with an alternative to the stand-alone computing experience which has been the model for 30 years," he told the E-Commerce Times. "It's an alternative operating system, yes, but it's really an alternative behavior. If you look back at personal computing over the last decade, the alternatives to Windows -- mostly Apple and Linux -- still preserved the same model."

The Chrome OS model may be closer to Android than it is to Windows, since applications will be Internet-based.

"The step Google is taking is to bet consumers and business users are ready for a device or computing experience that relies more on the Internet than a closed operating system," said King. "It's all in the cloud. This is almost the personal computer version of public transportation. Is it necessary to own stand-alone software? Or is there another model that will take care of all of your personal computing?"

How Well Will It Work?

The degree of competition Google poses for Microsoft Windows will depend on how well it fills the needs of its users.

"In realistic terms, Google is just nibbling at the fringes of Microsoft," said Laura DiDio, principal analyst at ITIC.

"Now we're talking about an Internet-based OS. Users are not interested in what's under the covers. They're interested in what works," she told the E-Commerce Times.

"It will have good adoption in the consumer space," DiDio predicted. "It's lightweight, Internet-based. Google's on a roll. In conjunction with the Chrome OS, they've also launched the Chrome Web store. They want those 120 million Chrome browser users to go to it right away."


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