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Netbook operating system

Posted 9 years ago in Tech by Rod Drury
Posted by Rod Drury

I got it wrong. I thought Android was going to be Google’s free netbook operating system but it seems Google are doing something slightly different. (There have been clues.)

Introducing the Google Chrome OS

The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform.

Google Chrome OS is a new project, separate from Android. Android was designed from the beginning to work across a variety of devices from phones to set-top boxes to netbooks. Google Chrome OS is being created for people who spend most of their time on the web, and is being designed to power computers ranging from small netbooks to full-size desktop systems.

I’ve been offline most of the day and had some time to read the analysis.  There are two camps.  Those that think this is nuclear and those that think … meh.

The ‘not another operating system’ camp appear to be thinking more about a traditional full operating system though the ‘windowing system’ mention does tend to suggest that.  However I think what Google Chrome OS is planned to be is just enough OS to load the browser.  Like these guys…

Perhaps the whole desktop is the browser – so maybe it will work a bit like the Palm Pre WebOS  where the desktop is HTML?

There are a number of things going on here which I believe add up to significant change:

  1. It’s not only Google doing this.  Intel is also ensuring they are not marginalized with their own free Netbook operating system: Moblin.
  2. The hardware guys, Dell, HP, Acer love this as it allows them to beat up Microsoft on licensing and potentially sell hardware without having to bundle licensed software – which reduces the costs of hardware.
  3. There is a lot of effort going into Linux on a chip.  If you are working in just a browser then the device needs only minimal storage for caching so the whole computer shrinks. Essentially a Netbook will be come a screen with the processor and memory just another chip.
  4. This further price reduction gets the device down to almost free – if you sign up to a data plan.  Already we’re seeing 99 cent computers.
  5. Telecommunications carriers, who benefit from the necessary data connections, therefore become the consumer and small business channel for NetBooks and associated services.  Telco stores will start to compete with retail stores (or we’ll see stores within stores) but essentially they are selling the same thing. Subscriptions with a hardware subsidy.
  6. The computer has changed over the last few years from a computing device to a communications device.  Only power users need a PC. Most functional work in society can be done in a browser.  Sure architects, engineers, software developers will need to run computer programs on a PC like platform but the bulk of users just need computers to communicate.
  7. When I see parents struggling with operating systems and where their files go I just cringe.  99% of people do not need to know that stuff.  Right now you have to understand computers to use them.  Yet my 5 year clicks on his user account, finds Safari, clicks on Ben10 and he’s playing games.  I’ve never showed him how to use the computer. He lives in the browser.
  8. Over the last few years browsers have become OS like. Google Gears allows offline storage and includes a database.  So even a Netbook running just a browser can be useful while not connected.

Small businesses and consumers just don’t care about computer programs.  They want to do email, find information on the web, flirt on facebook, share pictures, pay bills and file their tax on time. From anywhere, on any device. The operating system is becoming irrelevant. We’ll look back in 5 years and think how crazy it was that we needed to read books on how to run your computer and dealt with things like files and programs.

It will be fascinating to watch how Microsoft responds.  They are a smart company with huge resources. They are of course motivated to continue to make their operating system and office applications essential.  But trying to make the traditional Windows model work against NetBooks by crippling has not been well received – it’s hard to fight free.

This doesn’t mean the end of Windows and programs.  The PC market will always exist but it may shrink significantly as Netbooks attack from the bottom. Therefore Microsoft has to go through a significant reinvention to ensure it appends large service streams to it revenues. That is interesting.

Microsoft is already making inroads in search.  Bing has gained respect and market share. So Microsoft will be a player – but when they direction – the whole industry changes.

Regardless, whatever happens, this must be an accelerator for cloud computing. Woohoo!


Dennis Howlett
July 10, 2009 at 3.20 am

I disagree with what most people have said about this. Despite Linux efforts, they’ve not dislodged Windows from the netbook – free failed.

39 mill netbooks by 2013 plays 400 mill PC/laptops + 300 mill smartphones. That’s about the same market share Apple has achived in 20 years.

Office isn’t going away any time soon. All online spreadsheets fail at multiple levels as do the WP’ers. They’re just not good enough.

Google dev is like a kiddies play pen: nothing gets finished and all are messy.

Google is effectively washing its hands of support by open sourcing. How many versions will we see?

Much more I could say but all in this doesn’t look promising.

July 10, 2009 at 4.43 am

@Dennis Howlett

Comparing Linux to Google is like comparing Transonic to Sony. Linux isn’t a household brand, at best, its part of geek mythology as far as most people are concerned. But everyone knows Google “just” as well as Microsoft.

If Google arms Chrome OS with Windows applications compatibility, then Microsoft have got a very big problem on their hands, and it’s unlikely they’ll waste their time pitching for a slice of the Linux cake… because it’s Microsoft they’re gunning for!

So pc owners, and not just Netbook owners, will have a choice. A free platform capable of running all their software applications and supported by the “Google” brand, or Windows in different flavors at different prices supported by Microsoft that’s widely identified as a ship that’s sailing on auto-pilot crewed by those who would aspire to possess half the genius of Bill Gates.

And fresh in the minds of consumers .. the trauma of Vista and the expense of an OS which forced them to upgrade their pc’s only to witness something they’ve never seen before… Microsoft abandoning it. Bad decisions concerning XP and dropping support for what many identify as Microsofts best OS. Now throw in the least creative person in technology today, Steve Balmer. An unattractive man who sweats profusely and radiates smugness anytime a problem gives users no choice of solution or alternative. And now his biggest blunder to-date, poking a hot stick at Google with a sloppy copy of its search engine and not having the vision or insight to know there would be “serious” consequences.

Right now, I think the market has already responded favorably to Google’s Chrome OS, and that reply can be seen in Microsoft’s share price. The only questions that remain, are how low will it go, and how long will it take to get there.

July 10, 2009 at 9.08 am

I think you’ve both missed the bigger point. Chrome OS will use the Linux Kernel, and be released for both ARM and x86.

Microsoft has been doing there best to suppress ARM Netbooks for sometime now. Windows (the non mobile versions at least), don’t run on ARM. Look at the Taiwanese vendors who have announced, and then quitely withdrawn ARM models.

ARM promises to deliver huge battery life in a netbook model, and is a real threat to Microsoft.

This IS a game changer, and Microsoft might win on a x86 platform, but if ARM can deliver the battery life that is claimed, then Microsoft are going to have to tart up Windows Mobile for Netbooks very quickly….

July 14, 2009 at 8.36 pm

thanks Rod, I have been reading up on this topic on various IT news websites, however I have to say this is the best overall analysis I’ve read to date.

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