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Oh, Give Me a Home Where the OS Is Chrome

If you read tech news at all, you know by now that Google is developing an operating system designed to run on the Web and work primarily on netbooks. (Here's Google's own take on the Chrome OS.)

Naturally, we've seen the words "Microsoft killer" pop up more than once in the last couple of days. But we're more inclined to believe that, in the short term at least, the Chrome OS might bruise Windows but won't come close to killing it.

We at RCPU actually love the idea of a lightweight, Web-centric, portable OS, and we might just give Chrome OS a try for fun at some point. The fact that Chrome OS will be free for PC makers is interesting, but free hasn't done that much for Google so far: Google Apps and the Google Chrome browser are both free (then again, all browsers are), and neither has done much to dent the very expensive Microsoft Office or the somewhat flawed Internet Explorer -- or, for that matter, even Firefox.

We can see lightweight, Web-based OSes becoming the norm at some point (but, then again, so can Microsoft...maybe). But keep in mind, as Redmond Editor in Chief Doug Barney pointed out in his own newsletter, that Windows XP quickly supplanted Linux on netbooks after the open source OS had gained a bit of a foothold in that market.

Remember, too, that the installation base for Windows is vast, and that its ecosystem -- third-party developers and the like -- is even, uh, vaster (apparently it's a word). There's stuff for Windows: tons of apps, management tools and so forth. There won't be any stuff for Chrome OS for at least a little while. (Of course, it supposedly won't need as much stuff in the way of updates and management applications, but it also won't be as powerful as Windows, presumably.)

Plus, Microsoft enterprise partners aren't likely to have to worry about Chrome OS and netbooks invading their customers just yet. Windows 7 will be lighter and less of a resource hog than the ill-fated Vista, and supposedly it already works really well on netbooks.

And there's always that old point in Microsoft's favor: familiarity. Some phrase about "the devil you know" comes to mind. But seriously, after years of using Windows, how many people are going to want to learn their way around a new OS? Ask Apple and some of the Linux distrubutors -- not all that many outside the world of enthusiasts and certain IT professionals.  

Still, we like where Google is going with this conceptually, and we'd like to see Microsoft follow up on its nascent efforts in the area of a browser-OS (or OS-browser, or something). Chrome OS could be the start of something big -- or small, as the case may be -- but it's only the start. Nobody in Redmond or in Microsoft's channel should be sweating too much...yet.

What's your take on Chrome OS? Send it to [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on July 09, 2009