A couple of weeks ago, Google’s VP of Product Management and Engineering Director announced that Google was working on an Operating System called Google Chrome OS, scheduled to make its first appearance in netbooks in the second half of 2010. This announcement caused the IT world to buzz with excitement and within a couple of days since the announcement, there were already several articles on what Google Chrome OS might do to our Software world as we know it. Well, it’s been a busy time for me lately and I finally got some time to jot down my thoughts on this major announcement.

Ever since I had my first brush with Linux, I’ve tried several versions and distributions of it to attempt to seek a permanent alternative to Microsoft Windows. Although Linux distributions have evolved a lot over the years, there are still the odd problems with hooking up certain devices and still there’s more progress required in the GUI to really challenge Windows’ dominance in the Desktop OS market. Well, being quite familiar with UNIX, I can use the CLI shell to work around these glitches, but I still believe these Linux distributions have a long way to go to push Windows off its throne in the Desktop OS market and make Linux the first-choice OS for the average PC user. According to W3 Counter, as per June 2009 statistics, Windows Operating Systems make up around a whopping 89% of the total market share, while Linux accounts for a mere 2.11%. The primary reason – Microsoft Windows was the first OS to make it into the homes, schools and offices of the general population the world over, largely in part due to Bill Gates’ astute business acumen and Microsoft’s excellent marketing. The Mac OS and UNIX variants were confined to a small band of faithful followers (universities and geeks).

However, with Google announcing a free, Linux-based OS that focuses on speed, simplicity and security, perhaps the folks at Redmond ought to sit up and take notice. Before Google arrived with a big bang via their search engine, www Search was dominated by the likes of Yahoo! and AltaVista (now owned by Yahoo!). I was an AltaVista user until somebody asked me to try Google.  Google was not the first search engine, but it still made such a huge impact due to its simplicity, speed and accuracy of search results, such that those like me who tried Google never turned away from it, thereby making it the market leader in search. Now, Google seems all set to do the same in the OS market and I’m excited to see the results. Microsoft recently tried to challenge Google in the search market, with the launch of Bing. Only time will tell whether Google will be binged or whether Windows will be chromed!

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Some repercussions which Google’s Chrome OS could have are:

(1) Eat into the market share of Windows Desktop Operating Systems, thereby being a direct threat to Microsoft’s primary revenue churner.

(2) Wipe out several of the free Linux distributions already out there. Currently, Linux distributions are quite popular on netbooks and the Google Chrome OS will be first launched on netbooks.

(3) If Google manages to convince the popular hardware manufacturers to bundle the free Chrome OS with their products, then the prices of laptops, netbooks and Desktops could plummet. This will surely be one of Google’s key strategies to eat into Microsoft’s market share.

(4) Some third-party software like anti-virus and firewall software could become redundant, thereby wiping out some parts of the consumer software market.

Some of the challenges Google faces:

(1) Changing the users’ habits by luring them away from something they’ve gotten so used to over the years. However, the fact that the word “google” is now virtually part of every language and the huge reputation the company carries will help Google attract users.

(2) Getting it right the first time. Google will not have the luxury of trial and error via betas for a product like an OS. If users get frustrated by having to “learn” to use an OS, they’ll simply move back to familiarity.

(3) Getting the OS to (in Google’s words) “just work” on different hardware platforms and with different devices.

 

Well, if Google does score a winner with the Chrome OS,  then the ultimate winners will be us, the users. I’m eagerly awaiting the first release of Google’s Chrome OS.

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