Google has announced that it’s launching a new operating system, to be based on its Chrome web browser. Apparently the new OS will be available on netbooks at the back end of next year, and on full-size PCs a little later. Google says that ‘speed, simplicity and security’ will be the watchwords for the new system – and it’ll also be open-source, so developers will be able to access and work on the code. In all of the above, Google is clearly throwing down the gauntlet to Microsoft, and setting itself in direct opposition to the Windows system that has been the cornerstone of the latter’s success for decades. So it’s a bold move…
In its official blog, Google described the new Chrome Operating System as ‘our attempt to ‘re-think what operating systems should be’. Earlier systems, it says (mentioning no names), were designed in an era with no internet, where many users now spend their whole time on their computers. Hence the need for a ‘fast and lightweight’ system, with a ‘minimal’ user interface, that will ‘start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds’. In other words, no sitting around for hours waiting for your computer to boot up, or your browser to start, or your software to update. Google doesn’t add: ‘like some current operating systems you may use’, but the implication is clear.
This could be a serious headache for Microsoft, particularly as it’s about to launch Windows 7, the latest version of its all-conquering OS. Users and developers have been moaning for years that Windows is too clunky, too slow, and uses too much memory – but since it controls about 90% of the operating system market, its dominance has been incredibly hard to challenge. The emergence of Chrome could finally offer a serious alternative – particularly as it’s likely to be strong in all the areas that Windows is weak. And whereas Microsoft has always fiercely guarded its code, Chrome will be open-source – making it more attractive from a PR point of view.
There are still plenty of unanswered questions about Chrome – will it be free, will it be full of advertising, how will it work with existing applications, and so on. Equally, it will be hard for Google to take on Microsoft at least in the short term, since so many computers come bundled with Windows. It's easy to see this taking off in the low-end netbook market, which is all about getting online fast - but PC power users may continue to prefer the Windows system they've always used. And it's worth remembering that Linux has been offering an open-source OS for years, which hasn’t managed to overthrow Windows.
However, Google does have the branding expertise and the reach to present a serious challenge to Microsoft. If nothing else, it should at least increase competition and expand choice for consumers, which has to be a good thing.
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