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.