The Chrome operating system–netbooks first

(Please see my recent posts on technology, especially the one on hardware, for more information about what I think the principal issues are.)

Chrome OS

Following on the heels of its Android operating system for mobile devices and its Chrome browser, Google has just announced that it will launch a new Chrome operating system next year.  Although the initial target application will be netbooks, Google intends it to be used on mainstream PCs.  The details:

Main Features

1. it’s free

2.  it’s linux-based, with a Google windowing system on top of it

3.  Google is working with Acer, ASUS, HP, Lenovo and Toshiba to bring out Chrome netbooks next year  Oddly, to me anyway, Dell isn’t mentioned as a development partner

4. it will work on hardware with either Intel or Arm microprocessors

5. it is designed to allow boot up in a few seconds and to occupy minimal storage space, since most of the nuts and bolts will be on the web

6.  Google will handle maintenance issues, including software updates

7.  Google says the Chrome OS has been designed so users won’t have to worry about “viruses, malware and security updates”

8.  Users will also not have to “worry about losing their computer or forgetting to back up files.”  I presume this means Google will store everything on its own servers, not that they’ll send you a new PC if you misplace yours.

9.  Google will open-source the code later this year so third parties can develop applications

Wow!

A few observations

I don’t think the timing of this announcement is an accident.  It comes just as Microsoft is warming up to introduce Windows 7.  To me, the implied message is–“Don’t buy windows 7.  Tough it out a little longer with Vista and Chrome netbooks will come to your rescue in 2010.”

The Chrome OS will likely accelerate the trend away from traditional laptops toward netbooks.  This may create a lot of new traffic for the wireless spectrum Verizon bought sixteen months ago (after Google dropped out of the bidding).

The Chrome OS, as the Google version of cloud computing, will appeal primarily to individuals, I think.  Big corporations will have too many security issues with having data stored by Google.  I don’t know where small businesses will fit in.  Will this have implications for the Amazon or Yahoo computer services businesses?

If people are willing to have Google store their data, the whole debate between small form factor hard disk drives vs. flash memory-based “solid state” storage may resurface.  Flash memory is faster and more durable, but much more expensive.  But cost won’t matter if individuals are satisfied with having 40-60Gb of storage in their machines and letting Google handle the rest.  That would be good for Samsung, Sandisk and Toshiba, but bad for the hard disk drive makers.

It’s bad news for anti-virus companies if Google makes good on its no virus, no malware claim.

There may be more (negative) implications for Apple than might first appear. The Apple position, as I understand it, is that if you’re thinking of a netbook, buy an iPhone instead.  That may be so.  But Apple’s PC business had not only benefitted, I think, from the “halo effect” of the success of the iPod and the Apple store.  It has also gained from the failure of Vista and the decline in quality and customer service at Dell.  (My family and I–Dell users for almost 20 years, are a case in point.  I recently switched to the Mac I’m writing this on after the graphics chip on my Dell burned out for the third time [from playing card games–the machine couldn’t run anything more interesting] and I got fed up with wifi not working.)  Anyway, I selected Leopard over ubuntu.  Maybe I would pick Chrome over Leopard if I were deciding next year.   Maybe others would too.  Remember, PCs are about a third of Apple’s revenues.

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