July 9, 2009
Google Chrome, an Operating System
When Google introduced its web browser Chrome in early September 2008, few fully understood what the mandarins of Mountain View were up to. Sleek, slim and so lightly coded it could fit in the smallest of devices; Chrome was obviously made for mobile search. The browser ran faster than Firefox or IE, was sexier than Safari and was introduced to the world through a deceptively simple comic book. Flash a head nine months to today, July 2009. Earlier this week, Google gave us a glimpse of their long-range plans, an operating system plated from Chrome. Built of Linux, Chrome is going to be an open source operating system released to the world of developers in December 2009 and inserted into certain lines netbooks as early as June 2010. The long anticipated Google Operating System has arrived, or more appropriately, will arrive soon. In what amounts to a pre-announcement, Google signaled their intentions to challenge Microsoft's last remaining bastion of undisputed strength. In effect, Google fired a shot across Microsoft's bow one with two unmistakable messages attached, "You are NOT alone anymore and we CAN try to take you down." Google’s play is deceptively simple and aggressively real. While the introduction of yet another Linux based operating system might not seem like a big deal to some, the interoperability in micro-devices of several Google products that seriously threaten Microsoft's two major revenue lines should be. Google’s play is to push Microsoft out of a market everyone knows is going to lead the next wave of computing innovation, the mobile ‘Net. Already one of the leaders in "cloud-computing" (or server-side software and data storage), Google's Chrome is as much a bridge as it is an operating system. The real operating system Google will piggyback on is the Internet itself. Chrome is simply an interface built to fit in the palm of your hand. Microsoft’s first line of revenue is Windows. It's second is the Office productivity suite. Windows controls the desktop and the inner-workings behind the desktop. Office, for the vast majority of users, is the set of functions that are most often used. Google is gunning for both lines. Microsoft's biggest advantage is clear. Over the past twenty-something years, Microsoft has made an extraordinary set of business tools bundled together in Office. Word is by far, the best word processing program available. Excel, the very best spreadsheet software. Outlook is a highly capable Email client and PowerPoint is an essential presentation packager. Office has several other productivity tools, each of which beats its competition when used in conjunction with other productivity products. Microsoft office is thus a relatively expensive set of business tools. With full control of 85 – 90% of desktops used around the world, Microsoft's Windows/Office offerings are the foundational cornerstones upon which the economy of Microsoft is built. Windows, incidentally, costs a pretty penny to purchase too. Google, on the other hand, makes its stuff available for free. Gmail, Google Docs, Google Analytics, and Google search are all free for consumers to use. Costs are covered through advertising on certain lines of products which subsidize the development and provision of other products. Google even has a clear advantage in one aspect of their offerings that Microsoft still hasn't managed to meet, collaborative enabling. Recently, Google introduced the alpha version of what looks like a stunning new product known as Google Wave. Combining the best of social networking applications Twitter and Facebook with the functionality and collaborative abilities of Google Docs, Wave looks to be a large part of what Google will consider a competitive advantage in the productivity department. Competition in the mid-era of search shifted last year from Google vs. Yahoo! to Google vs. Microsoft. Search dominance is no longer the Holy Grail though search is one of the pillars of a much larger temple. Tomorrow’s competition will be based on the most basic of premises. They who control the entire user experience can control everything. It’s not about search anymore. Google's Monday announcement makes it about control. The battle between Google and Microsoft is about to get extremely existential and more interesting than ever.