Chrome OS: What Is Google's Goal?

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on July 08, 2009

Google’s announcement that it is working on a lightweight, Web-based operating system for netbooks, to be called Chrome OS, is a surprise only in its timing. As I wrote last September, when Google released the Chrome browser and Sergey Brin denied that its ambitions went beyond building a fast, simple browser:

Don’t believe it for a second. Although the first version of Chrome has a half-finished feel and runs only on Windows, a close look at its features and underlying design reveals a far more dramatic goal. Chrome aims to take on not just Internet Explorer’s 75% share of the browser market but Windows’ dominance of the desktop itself.

Chrome was designed less as a competitor to the feature-rich Internet Explorer and Firefox than as a container for running Web-based applications. That made it, in effect, the user interface for a Web-based OS. Add a kernel (Google, unsurprisingly, is using the Linux kernel as the core), a window manager, and assorted other pieces of OS infrastructure and you can have a simple, fast, and robust operating system without a massive development effort.

If Google's faith in Web applications is well placed, then it is right in thinking that big, rich operating systems such as Windows and Mac OS X
are doomed. I suspect the Googlers are half right: Rich client-based applications will remain important for games, content creation, and any computationally intense work, while Web based apps will dominate for content consumption, especially on the go. No operating system around today is really designed for this lightweight experience, which is one reason Google felt compelled to step in.

I also suspect that some at Google were not entirely happy with the the direction that its Android mobile OS project is taking. Numerous netbook makers have made plans to install Android on small laptops. But Android was designed for handsets and a move to bigger devices is problematic. At a minimum, porting Android to larger screens would require major modifications in the user interface and possible some deeper components, such as the file system. This would lead to what computer scientists call "forking," the splitting of an operating system into branches that have serious incompatibilities between them.

The push for Android on netbooks was being driven by manufacturers' dissatisfaction with both Microsoft and current Linux distributions. In some cases, the computer makers wanted to build netbooks based on the ARM processor, such as Qualcomm's Snapdragon platform, rather than an Intel or AMD x86 processor, and Android is designed for ARM. Done right, Chrome would satisfy those desires while helping Google protect the integrity of Android.

The bottom line is that Chrome could produce a hefty payout for Google without a massive investment. And that makes it look like a winner all around.

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Reader Comments

jim

July 8, 2009 11:07 AM

My concern is if there is a price involved. I heard it will be opensource, but unless the price is right, linux will win in the end. (For netbooks...)

Eryck D.

July 8, 2009 11:12 AM

This is appearing more and more like a chess game between the two giants. Bing moves on Google, then Chrome moves on Windows. This is all after the strong performance that Android has produced against windows mobile. No matter what happens, I think that the users are the ultimate winners in the battle.

Amir Raza

July 8, 2009 11:39 AM

The days of Microsoft dominance in the PC market are over. With the new NetBook the change is in the air. Unfortunately the bad product called Vista Microsoft developed (most people blame that it was developed in India a bad example of offshoring) was a nightmare. It was an opporunity lost and Microsoft has no clue for the future. They are in the same situation they were with Netscape or JAvA from Sun in 90s.
Google should also focus on something similar to MS Office suite. Open office is a killer for MS office. If they can come up with an OS with browser and office suite it will be a death knoll to M.S. At this time Google offers the google docs but it is not upto the standard there is a need for a lot of work in this area. As I mentioned earlier not just an OS but "an OS with good browser and office tools" is all it needs to challenge Microsoft and drive it out of business atleast in the NETBOOK area and I see the future in the Netbook area not the thick laptops with Windows 7. BTW who needs Windows 7 when you can do all your work in XP?

Yvonne

July 8, 2009 11:47 AM

Am I alone in thinking the availability on ARM means the availability on smaller machines and different kinds of machines?

Tom Mariner

July 8, 2009 11:48 AM

A serious challenge to not only Microsoft's browser market share but for their core operating system business. Must be time for US and EU regulators to again crank up their efforts to break up Microsoft as a monopolist that has crushed competition.

And you're right -- the cheap hardware netbook technology trashes Microsoft's entire pricing business model. Definitely an urgency to fine the heck out of them and make them pay insane attorney fees before rivals to their unstoppable market domination make them unprofitable.

Walter Guan

July 8, 2009 11:54 AM

From strategic point of view, google have to do this:

Google's income stream come from usage of web-searching. Microsoft could undermine these usage by defaulting own searching engine in their IE browsing which they have incorporated as part of their platform. Microsoft would love take this income steam from google, 1. more income, 2 more dominance.

Google, in order to remove themselves from these threats, would counter back by determining window's dominance on OS platforms, web browsing, and its killer applications Microsoft Office. We are talking about a corporate war here.

So whether or not you would like to see a Google OS or not, it doesn't matter. It is going to happen anyway. Google OS, I predict, would be by far has more figures than the existing Windows OS, and it can run windows based applications, and it will be free.

Customers, like us, would always love competitions, only when there are competitions, we could have better services and better products.

Carl In Silicon Valley

July 8, 2009 11:56 AM

As much as I like and enjoy using its products though I have been using Bing (faster) and Ask (more relevant) a lot more lately, Google is using its monopolistic position in advertising, search and general Web services to put Microsoft out of business. And that is illegal.

Having a presence on the Apple board and working with Microsoft's customers (PC makers) against Microsoft, is conspiracy in the real sense and should bring a RICO allegation against Google and its collaborators. What Google is doing sounds a lot like what Intel gets in trouble for a lot. Where is the outrage against Google?

Everyone loves Google. Everyone loves Warren Buffet. If Buffett started building cars, better cars maybe, maybe not and giving them away with the hope and goal of dominating the market for his insurance businesses, would that be fair competition to Ford?

A “Microsoft tax”, give me a break. When Google realizes its goal of dominating the Web experience, everyone, even non-computer users will pay a “Google tax” passed on to consumers by advertisers of all manner of goods and services

Sally in Chicago

July 8, 2009 12:14 PM

Can someone tell me why all this attention to the small netbooks & Laptops? We still use desktops at work and I use one at home. I wouldn't put their system on my desktop until it went through years of tests. Chrome is not all that great anyway.

S Gunen

July 8, 2009 12:29 PM

Google's Chrome OS is good option for the people on the go and internet is everything. That is right, "No operating system around today is really designed for this lightweight experience".

NIk

July 8, 2009 12:35 PM

Well i would disagree with the bad offshoring example. I myself am an Enterprise Architect and anyone in the software industry would, responsibility of such product rests on the architecture of the product and not the development. Vista has been poorly architected and there can be no excuse for this. Microsoft tried to copy the Mac features and missed out on the performance.

Steve in Connecticut

July 8, 2009 12:44 PM

The fact that my data resides on my device and is not dependent on a network application is desirable to me. When we first began to develop computing systems, we had applications that resided on central systems with less functional terminals for access. This proved cumbersome and network outages stopped all work; do we want to return to that?
Microsoft, take note: time to develop the cloud/base computational model while you can.

Michael

July 8, 2009 12:44 PM

At it's base it is still Linux, how is Linux doing in the corp market? This will hurt Google and hurt it's already down stock price.

Soon Mr. Schmidt and company will be asked by the institutional investors (they own 79% of the publicly outstanding common stock) when will the stock price get back up in the $700's? Or at the very least back to it's 52 wk high ($555)? When they hear the answer of never they will scream about wasted money on ill advised adventures in OS software and free gadgets and cell phones:-0 instead of there real business which is advertising not computer software. Google has a single profit center it's advertising not software.

"A man(or in this case a company)'s got to know it limitations"! clearly Google has lost it's way, like Apple computer when they fired Steve Job's, when the Ivy League MBA's take over, companies go down hill fast!

lubomirfrom NYC

July 8, 2009 12:46 PM

Hey Carl from Silicon Valley,
You scared of the Big G. Good. Nobody can stop them. MS are greedy motherfu?@%& with a moronic doped up dancing monkey at the helm.
GOOG will be the winner. I can smell it.

Cy

July 8, 2009 01:18 PM

I don't see the niche for netbooks, and think a lot of the R&D going into them is money down the bog. After all, I have a desktop for resource-intensive computing, a laptop for travel, and now an iPhone for on-the-go internet and email access. Exactly where is there a need for something between the smartphone and the laptop? What need does a netbook fulfill? Aside from fitting into a bare bones price level, netbooks have zero functionality. They started off as an idea for bringing the internet to developing countries. Now the US thinks they're going to be a big hit domestically? Not a chance.

SB

July 8, 2009 02:58 PM

Not everyone can afford, needs or wants a desktop, laptop and expensive iPhone. A lot of computer-illiterates just want an easy way to get onto the web, surf, email and add mindless comments to twitter.
A way for them to do that cheaply and without needing to understand computers and operating systems would suit them just fine. Google can see that potential though their cloud-based apps have a heck of a long way to go before they attract serious users.

DR

July 8, 2009 04:07 PM

@Michael: Linux is doing quite well in the Corp space, thank you very much. Most application farms out there run on Linux, and a significant percentage of data center farms have moved to Linux (from proprietary Unix flavours, mostly) in the last few years.

Windows dominates the corporate desktop, and has a strong presence for non-core business application (primarily email and departmental file servers), for sure, but it does not have that strong a presence for mission-critical systems.

If Google makes a solid dent in Microsoft's client-side business, even if it's only in the netbook space for the time being, it'll be a game changed. Microsoft's cash cows are all on the client side; what position they have on the server-side is entirely driven by their client-side dominance. If Google seriously affects this, Microsoft as we know it is toast.

Google knows what it's doing, and it will be a fun game to watch.

scottSD

July 8, 2009 05:03 PM

Carl In Silicon Valley:

are you high or just a microsoft shill? that was the most incoherent argument against google that anyone could make. oh god, you get it free now but advertisers will make you pay later! that has to be worse than paying a buttload now AND later with microsoft, right!?

and building competition against a clear front-runner is cause for RICO prosecution now?

All Together

July 8, 2009 05:28 PM

Google is creating a operating system for Netbooks that are a fad just like the mini DVD machines that I no longer see. They were and are about the same size yes? We're really losing touch with our communication with all these devises that allow us to hide behind technology. I received a call from a recent college grad today. He most likely uses text, email and Twitter to communicate, because he certainly couldn't speak when he left his voice mail. He sounded like a uneducated 8th grader. Is this what we want with less and less face to face communication? Not me! IMHO

wbaltzley

July 8, 2009 05:49 PM

Google, like Microsoft is a giant corporation. Its Goal: to generate as much profit as possible. Expanding into the operating system market has several benefits:

1. Potential Revenues
2. Spreading Risk
3. Avoiding Anti-Trust Suit

Google has a near monopoly in search--controlling 65% of the market. By expanding into OS and taking on a competitor that holds nearly 90% of that market, Google effectively creates competition for itself. Very clever.

Also, maintaining a monopoly is difficult--just ask Microsoft. You always run the risk of others invading your territory and eating away at your profits. One way to hedge your bets is to explore other sources of revenue.

Finally, the OS market is already developed and highly profitable. Google is not starting from scratch, but building on Linux--which has decades of open source development and support behind it. Therefore, Google risks little, and stands to gain a LOT.

perlgoon

July 8, 2009 06:33 PM

Netbooks are a flash in the pan. Every generation of smart phone takes us one step closer to their extinction. In five years they will be gone. Why carry a netbook if your Palm/Blackberry/Iphone can do the same thing? When you see a portable, foldable screen/keyboard get developed for the smart phones, look out. Developing an OS for the netbook is a dead end - unless you're going to use that experience for a launch board into something else.

Nagendra Anubhukta

July 8, 2009 09:02 PM

Some One Said / Commented about MS Offshor to India and result is a VISAT. I thing this is bad comment my friend. Do you know Google, MS, SUN, Oracle, all have their biggest IT practices out of India do you mean all will Follow VISA? No Unilateral statements please...No coming to Chrome OS I think thi sis not a surprise every one knows Google strategy expected a Browser from Google we got it, expected Enterprise Apps we got it, expected gPhone we got it ...not OS was exptected and we are getting it...it will be one more player in the market..there wont be single dominance any more people are changing...its not the old days ...no one will agree for Monopoly...weather MS, Google, Linux or some one Else.

Richard

July 9, 2009 08:04 AM

Having switched to Google Chrome for my Search Engine several months ago after upgrading (and I use that term loosely) to Internet Explorer 8, I am absolutely astounded by the increased speed and efficiencies of Chrome. I had also recently switched from Comcast Cable Modem for my internet provider to Verizon DSL. HANDS DOWN - my browsing and searching is faster and more reliable now than before the switch. AND I am saving $40 per month on my internet provider expense.

I continue to believe that Google WILL unseat Microsoft as the leading Global Company in the PC Computing Space.

They are smart, nimble, not hampered by old legacy systems and management, and they have established an incredible Branding with GOOGLE!!

My bets are on GOOGLE!!

Matt

July 9, 2009 12:54 PM

Visuals. I want a visually enhanced OS. Can google bring that to us?

hornbird

July 9, 2009 01:46 PM

smooth

Paul

July 9, 2009 08:38 PM

Wow... I can't believe how much garbage people can come up with. There were five or so comments that actually made sense, both logically and grammatically. No wonder Google is working on a simpler OS--we are getting dumber and dumber each generation. I am all for Google's efforts at redistribution in computing, but let's not lose sight of the fact that we will always need at least halfway competent people to interface. And all of you Google and Microsoft #$%@s, you're no better than 12 year-old girls at a Britney Spears concert. Let's focus on the objective elements of the conversation.

Aravindan Umashankar

July 10, 2009 01:49 AM

Chrome wont send MS home in a hurry !Yes we agree at for content consumption it is chrome . For rich client its a battle between MacOS & Win 7..Mac being always better& Win with larger market share.All that matters is that the consumer will have choice!

Chris

July 10, 2009 03:54 AM

I think that the chrome OS is just a testing bed for the bigger picture, which will be a full blown OS for desktops and laptops. The Linux user base seems to be growing they are still way behind but with Ubuntu, and Fedora both great free Linux distros. I can see more people moving to Linux if Google makes Chrome simple and adds value by adding its apps and widgets pre-installed. What they will need to do on the desktop OS is make it compatible to run current games, but I think this will be hard since all PC games use Direct X which is owned by Microsoft and emulation like Wine HQ does not work well on most games

lcabral

July 10, 2009 03:57 AM

Google has mastered usability and the web in most of its senses. If they release a OS, be it in Linux or whatever, they will now how to give readily installed into the final consumer.
Also take in consideration that even though Linux is Open source, Google does not have the tradition of releasing Opens source applications. More usually they release Freeware which is as good (or better) for the typical computer user. More than 80% of the Web population don't care about Open Source... what can they do with it?

W

July 10, 2009 04:42 AM

I work at a large office and I have NEVER seen anybody with Netbook. Nobody uses it as far as I know.

A Concerned American

July 10, 2009 05:49 AM

"Big Brother is watching you." Google may be in on a scheme of massive proportions, in which they will try to control the content that you see, for their own profits. The Internet will not be free and access to information will be restricted. Google has already developed software that can access AND turn on your computer's mic and camera, (Google it LOL) and in netbooks/laptops they will be BUILT IN. Imagine for a moment that the federal government raises taxes to 50% (from the 20-30% or so today), spending it on CORPORATE SUBSIDIES. Some of those subsidies go to google for spying on people to "keep them in line". And what if, as Obama stated in one of his speeches, a person protesting the higher taxes due to the 75 trillion in government BILLS coming our way (not to mention universal health care entitlement programs as well), will get hauled away and locked up indefinitely for a FUTURE crime. I am not kidding here, those words came out of Obama's mouth in a speech he gave in Egypt. And I'm not trying to scare people. I am posing scenarios based on real events, given the current state of our unresponsive, fascist (corporate socialism) ethically bankrupt government, i feel that i am justified to speak these things, and that people should pause, research and consider what I have said. Thank you. Please read "The Creature from Jekyll Island" to understand that these corps (whether or not they are bankers) see competition as a "sin".
~~~Liberty! Liberty! LIBERTY! We must cry this from the depths of our SOULS... "GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME DEATH!"~~~

Ahmed Kamal

July 10, 2009 09:34 AM

@author: "I suspect the Googlers are half right"

I suspect you haven't heard about:
http://code.google.com/p/nativeclient/
and
http://code.google.com/apis/o3d/

now everything can be run in a browser, anywhere on any OS, managed and back'ed up by GOOG datacenters, and updated/secured on the fly!

LOVE_MOSS_NOT

July 10, 2009 10:45 AM

Google against Windows?

Oh please.. how naive is for Google to think that IT depts will switch from years of M$Outlook, M$Office, to something else...

give me a break..

david wayne osedach

July 10, 2009 01:28 PM

I for one welcome Google into the fray. I have nothing but praise for Chrome and am looking to pick up a netbook with their new operating system.

Richard Evans

July 11, 2009 04:32 AM

By the end of 2009 netbooks (based on current sales) will represent one in ten of all computers in use. They are popular for many reasons but are mostly used at home as a second or third ultra portable. I have one and it gets a lot of use because of it's portability and ability to run every app I have. I'm excited by the prospect of an instant on/off OS; be it Chrome or Android. Many already dual boot to either Windows or whatever and this will make netbooks an instant hit. The ability to push two buttons and be at my favorite web site in seconds is truly a killer app.

Peter Meijer

July 11, 2009 11:19 AM

The google chrome webbrowser is a disaster due to lack of security. Now they want compete in the market of OS? good luck!

Ryeman

July 12, 2009 09:50 AM

I think the one thing that most people keep forgetting is the the real deciding factor for the success of any operating system is it's adoption by enterpise. As an it professional I can tell you that as long as developers of applications used for accounting and time keeping and forecasting and really anything needed for the fluid operation of a business are developed for windows the netbook will ultimately fail, and open source will loose to the msft.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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