chrome os

Google announced plans Wednesday to enter the operating system business with a new product called Google Chrome OS, an open source project intended for netbook PCs. Details are sketchy, but it appears that a windowing system based on the Google Chrome Web browser will run on top of a Linux kernel and function as the user interface and application loader.

Like many others, I was excited at first. For one, my phone has Android, Google’s mobile OS, which I find more user friendly and capable than Windows Mobile or Blackberry OS. But, after the initial buzz wore off, I was left with a few unanswered questions, the biggest of which was “Why?”

Due to its open source status, the cost of Google Chrome OS would be quite low, even for large scale enterprise implementations. So, given Google’s array of consumer web applications aimed at businesses as well as individuals, the Chrome OS could be designed to encourage a massive shift toward cloud computing, thereby increasing Google’s revenues. But what if that’s not the only reason?

The Wall Street Journal points out that Google now challenges Microsoft in virtually all of its core businesses. With an impressive roster of hardware partners for Chrome OS announced Thursday, is it possible Google thinks their new operating system can win a fight with the Windows giant on its home turf?

Maybe they do. Maybe they can. But, it’s unlikely to happen. With Windows 7 available in stores on October 22featuring good-old Windows familiarity and some sleek new features like advanced touchscreen support, Microsoft will continue to dominate the netbook OS market.

There is also reason to be cautious about the impact Google Chrome OS will have on Google’s bottom line.On Monday, Microsoft is expected to announce the release of Office Web, the long-awaited and much-anticipated cloud-based companion to the tremendously popular MS Office suite. According to Gartner research published by The Wall Street JournalMicrosoft already owns 94 percent of the office suite market. When you take into account the lack of features available in Google Docs and its general lack of compatibility with other office suites, Office Web’s promise of a seamless transition between cloud and PC is sure to take some wind out of Google’s sales.

There seem to be quite a few hurdles stacking up against Google. But they have to know and understand the challenge ahead of them and have an answer. Will it change computing as we know it? I don’t think it will happen overnight, but if Google presses forward with a cloud OS, you can bet others will follow and the landscape will change forever.

Do you or your company use Google Apps? If so, what do you like about them? In light of the impending Office Web Beta, will you be staying with Google?

UPDATE 7/13/2009: As predicted, Microsoft unveiled Office 2010 BETA at its Worldwide Partner Conference this morning. This updated version of the immensely popular office suite comes with a slew of new features, including free Web-based versions of Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and OneNote. For screenshots and additional information, check out The Complete Guide to Microsoft Office 2010 at TechCrunch.