how chrome os will change things

Last night Google announced that they will be releasing a lightweight operating system later this year to ship with netbook PCs in the latter half of 2010. Google Chrome OS in and of itself seems innocuous, but I think it could have a bigger impact than many people realize.

Microsoft Windows has been a dominant force in the OS realm since probably as long as you’ve been using computers. Even with Linux and Mac OS options many people still consider Windows to be the only choice. Google Chrome OS is clearly not positioned as a direct competitor, but what it will do is muddy the OS waters. With Intel pushing moblin and linux variants continuing to become more user friendly, what I see happening as Chrome OS gets released amongst all these options is consumers being confused.

And thats where I come in… When people have a question about computers they ask me. Well, ok, not always me, but some reasonable facsimile. Over the last 5-10 years I’ve had this conversation dozens, if not hundreds, of times:

someone: Hey Chuck, what kind of computer should I buy?

me: Well, what do you plan to do with it?

someone: Check my email, watch YouTube, and use (waste my time on) Facebook (for 6 hours/day).

me: Buy the cheapest thing with a warranty, and buy a new one when it breaks.

Over the last 4 years “the cheapest thing with a warranty” has almost always had Windows on it, but when you look at what most people are using their computers for it’s clearly overqualified. I don’t think my advice will change too much, and unless Windows becomes free (which might be a good idea Microsoft) I’m pretty sure you’ll see much better deals on netbooks with Chrome OS.

But Chuck, not everyone buys a computer for such simple tasks. What about people who need more?

Aside from the internet stuff, what people tell me they want from their computer more than anything is multimedia. People want to record their music, make a website, edit their photos, or make videos. Clearly you see where I’m going with this. Buy a Mac. However those aren’t the only things people do. When I break down the demographics, I see two main types of people that are still bound to Windows. Gamers and business people with specific software needs. For gamers, the many popular console options (which Microsoft has joined with XBox) have already helped to dilute the PC gaming market, and made gamers question if they should be spending $2,000+ on a gaming rig every few years. And if you have a job centered around computing, look around, I bet you’ll find many of the critical tools you need have slowly migrated to the web. The Windows-centric workplace is fading into the internet-centric workplace, and this is exactly where Google is positioning Chrome OS.

Just like Firefox hopped in and mixed up the whole browser situation causing people to question their allegiance to the mighty Internet Explorer 6, I think Google has a chance to shake up things in the OS world. For many people, buying a computer with Windows will no longer be a given.

July 8, 2009 at 11:04 am

While this sounds logical upfront, you have to realize that non-tech users are generally terrified of change. Since they only use it for simple things, switching to another OS is not a change they will want to make. When given the choice between the Windows name (which they for some reason trust) and Google, they will probably choose Windows because it is what they already know.

Here is the other problem: drivers. About everyone makes drivers for Windows because it is common, *nix has drivers because its users are mostly programmers and Mac doesn’t support much so Apple can make them. Companies won’t make new drivers for them because they won’t occupy a market share for some time. Google will either have gain an open source community (fast), make drivers for most devices or be extremely limited in what hardware works with it. This presents a problem for people like me who simply don’t buy computers stock, I’m not going go for limited hardware since I am always upgrading. Keep in mind this goes from everything from processors to scanners to iPods.

Dan, July 8, 2009 at 11:37 am

I should revise. Apple doesn’t necessarily make the drivers, but only licenses out their address buses and hardware specifics out to a few companies. These companies make drivers for mac because Apple buys from them to place in their computers. This gives a certainty of mac drivers being profitable.

Dan, July 8, 2009 at 11:44 am

This is a great summary, but I challenge some of your assertions:

“The Windows-centric workplace is fading into the internet-centric workplace, and this is exactly where Google is positioning Chrome OS.”

I disagree with this statement on two fronts.  First, I don’t think Chrome OS is being positioned to take over the workplace, but rather home and student computing, which is what you were emphasising in your post (and this is where netbooks – their target hardware – are being positioned).  Secondly, I think the workplace is not fading to the internet as you may think – for small businesses, maybe, but I think midsize and large businesses would be highly unlikely to migrate to Chrome OS because there are several requirements common to business (which I will not enumerate here) that Chrome OS is not even trying to solve.  One of the biggest is supporting legacy applications, which Dan aluded to.

I think the driver issue is an interesting one.  Linux (the underlying OS) does support a wide variety of devices today and most of those will be applicable to those interested in netbooks and/or Chrome OS.

Chris, July 8, 2009 at 12:19 pm

The people I’m referring, which I think Chris picked up on, don’t even know that their computer has an Operating System. “What’s that?” they’ll say. They know how to turn on their computer and double-click the browser icon. They don’t know what a Control Panel is, and they can’t distinguish between RAM and storage. I set my roommates laptop to the native lcd resolution yesterday, and he looked at me like I just performed magic. Have some conversations with regular people, you’ll find out they know less about their computer than you would think.

As for the driver issue, as Chris also points out this is a Linux kernel. It only has a new windowing system, which is irrelevant to drivers. I think you’ll find that Google already has a big open source community, and the Linux community in general has been doing an increasingly better job of maintaining drivers.

Perhaps I didn’t phrase the quoted statement well. I don’t think Chrome OS is targeted at business people. It’s targeted just as an internet platform in general. I do believe however that the internet itself is becoming the dominant platform in the workplace. Who can’t access their email from the web? Many of the common services business people use are on the web: calendars, project management tools, document sharing and collaboration. There are fewer and fewer programmers without web development skills, and it’s becoming attractive for businesses to develop internal tools for the web. I’m not saying businesses will have back-end services that run on Chrome OS, but for most workers to have drone PCs that simply connect to the network and run services through browsers is not a stretch by any means.

Chuck, July 8, 2009 at 1:22 pm

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