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.)
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.
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:
- It’s not only Google doing this. Intel is also ensuring they are not marginalized with their own free Netbook operating system: Moblin.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!