The Google Chrome operating system

Chrome OS Guided Tour - YouTube

I rarely comment on news, preferring instead to trial, demonstrate and collect my thoughts before writing a blog article. However this piece of news from the official Google blog is potentially so big, I wanted to add my comments straight away (and I was a web developer in a previous life)….

Yesterday, Google announced it is developing a new computer operating system and I am sure that created quite a shockwave at Microsoft’s HQ in Seattle:

Building a new operating system for the desk top market is a huge task – not so much from a technical point of view for a company such as Google (the company built its own operating system to run the Google infrastructure from day one – based on unix), rather the driving of user adoption where others have struggled for the past 20 years. Anyone remember OS/2…?

The history of the Mac is a case in point – only in the past 2 years has its operating system (OS X) taken off in significant numbers. Released in 2002, I would suggest the primary reason for its current adoption spurt is down to the gorgeous looks of its latest hardware, rather than any great features of OS X (a proprietary derivative of unix). Ubantu is another recent addition to the OS market, though its market share for desktops/laptops is currently tiny.

Will users switch to Google Chrome?

Without great looking hardware, asking users to switch to a new operating system is a tough challenge. Kudos to Sundar Pichai (VP Product Management) and Linus Upson (Engineering Director) and the rest of the Google engineering team for taking the plunge and committing to this project. Clearly they are initially going after the netbook and laptop market – where a lighter OS footprint is required and where it makes sense to compliment Android. It’s also a nascent place where users are less loyal to any particular OS. For example, I love my MacBook, but the iPhone had to go back and be replaced with a Blackberry (the touch screen keyboard drove me nuts!).

There is a good possibility Google could make its Chrome OS a success. The ethos of usability (i.e. ergonomics) is a very strong driving force at Google. And putting the end-user first is a great winner for business as they have shown – it gives away its products for free yet makes $20 billion a year turn over! (It never ceases to amaze me why is it so hard for other companies to follow suite – that is, put the end user first, then build a business model around that).

Does this make Google too powerful?

Although I am eagerly awaiting the release of the Chrome OS (2010), I must admit the potential dominance Google is building for itself with its operating systems for desktops and mobile, browser, advertising networks (Adwords, Adsense), gmail, gtalk, calendar, docs, Google Apps, is starting to get a tad scary… Despite such high quality products, such dominance of the digital market place cannot be good – can it?