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UK freelance journalist and author Sean McManus

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Is Chrome Google's Bing?

08 July 2009

The news is out that Google is going after Microsoft by launching a rival to Windows. Google's Chrome OS has been engineered to work seamlessly with the web, and will likely integrate with Google's online email and document applications. Google is rather bravely claiming that there will be no viruses or malware. That's a dangerous strategy, because the moment there's a proof of concept virus, their credibility is shot.

The OS might turn out to be a great product. But it's hard to imagine it quickly unseating Microsoft. The switching costs are likely to be too high because people will only be able to switch to Chrome by buying new hardware. The Google brand is powerful, but can it persuade people to buy something that isn't Windows if that's all they've ever known?

There's also the problem of shifting towards online applications. If your data is all online, what happens if the service provider goes under or has an outage? I've had occasion to contact tech support for two social networks while I've been researching my book and the support was uncooperative, to say the least. They're free services and you get what you pay for.

There are a lot of commentators talking about how this is a serious challenge to Microsoft, but I'm not sure that the hype is justified. Why should Google have more success in selling operating systems than Microsoft has had in giving away web searches? How many people have dumped Google to use Bing as their main search engine?

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I agree they have a big challenge on their hands to get switchers. Bundling with netbooks that aren't intended to be any more than web browsing machines could be a good move though.

I'm pretty sure you're wrong about needing new hardware to try it out. It's just Linux + new GUI + Chrome, so it should run on existing hardware -- expect to see VMWare images and live CDs.

Google's strategy with Chrome and Chrome OS is to encourage the adoption of applications in browsers - Google Apps etc. So I bet there won't be a word processor or spreadsheet app for this OS - you use Google Apps in Chrome.

How long til Firefox is ported to this platform?
Thanks for your comment. The live CDs combined with the Google brand could increase Google's reach dramatically, and wasn't something I'd considered.

There's still a question of how Google can encourage people to switch if they're reasonably happy with Windows, though. Most OS sales/upgrades are with a new machine, so in practical terms, Google has to sell a lot of hardware to take on the mass market of Windows users. At the right price, it could do that, but it would take quite a while.

In the short term, Google could take market share from Linux, but I think it will struggle to convince people to replace Windows. I can't imagine what benefits they could offer that would convince people to throw out their investment in software and training, and give up their ownership of their data to the cloud.

So far, Google apps (Gmail etc) all run on Windows in a browser. Windows apps won't run on Chrome, though.
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