Google is grabbing all the headlines in the tech-nerd world with its announcement of Chrome OS. Initially aimed at the netbook market, this lightweight operating system relies heavily on "cloud computing". Since a great deal of the processing will be executed on the server side, hardware manufacturers should be able to release inexpensive netbooks that are full featured, thanks to a variety of Google products. The announcement has all kinds of implications for consumers and large corporations. I'm going to take a look at how Chrome OS impacts some major players.
Microsoft: The Redmond giant is the most obvious target for Chrome OS. Windows XP is, by far, the most popular operating system for netbooks. Although there are several capable Linux variants available, consumers greatly prefer the familiarity and compatibility of Windows. Chrome OS (which runs on top of a Linux kernel) can succeed where other Linux builds failed. Netbooks using Chrome will presumably feature heavy Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Chrome (the browser) implementation. And since the OS will be free, consumers will be getting netbooks -- with built in office functionality -- that are cheaper than ones using Windows. Currently, the price difference between netbooks using Linux and those using Windows XP is around $50. The projected difference on future, more powerful models using Windows 7 is expected to be even more. Chrome OS gives netbook manufacturers a way to keep prices down as Microsoft continues to raise them.
Intel: Google stated that Chrome will be able to run on ARM processors as well as x86 processors (Intel/AMD/VIA). At this time, Windows 7 will only support the latter. A lot of netbook makers are interested in ARM chips, due to their low power consumption and the performance they delivers per watt, but the lack of a familiar OS is a deal breaker for many. Chrome OS coupled with an ARM chip looks like a winning proposition that should have Intel worried. Remember, Intel chips come at a premium price, next year's netbooks running Chrome with an ARM chip should be cheaper than those using an Intel chip with Windows 7.
On the software side, Intel has been shifting a lot of resources towards its Moblin OS, which is also aimed at the netbook market. While Intel has released a lot of great silicon over the years, it has never been known for its software or use friendliness. Google has a much better reputation in that area. While consumers certainly know both brands, I'd bet that most of them think of Google as the more user-friendly company, thanks to products like Gmail, Picassa, Blogger, Google Docs, Google Maps, and more.
Apple: Industry pundits expect Apple to eventually enter the netbook space. While many are expecting an Apple tablet, they're all sure that at some point in the near future, Apple will release an inexpensive product that will compete with netbooks. Can't you see a more robust version of iPhone OS running on a bigger device? I can, and Chrome OS would definitely be competing with it.
Where it gets really interesting is on the corporate side. Google CEO Eric Schmidt currently sits on Apple's board of directors. When Google was purely about web services, the arrangement made sense. Things look a lot different in 2009 than they did in 2006, when Schmidt was elected to the board. Apple and Google are competing in more and more areas; Chrome OS just adds another log to the fire. Will it be a matter of time before Schmidt is asked to leave Apple's board? Are there too many conflicts of interest now?
Consumers: As Captain Planet said, "The power is yours!" Chrome OS is great for consumers. It will make the netbook market more competitive by giving consumers more choices, which should help keep prices down. Personally, I love the idea of a Chrome OS netbook with a capable ARM processor. I can get a lot of work done with Gmail, Google Docs, and the Chrome browser. Other Google services, like Google Maps and Blogger, are great for general productivity and entertainment. If the retooled Google Voice is good enough to replace Skype, which I rely heavily on, then Chrome OS netbooks will offer me an all-in-one solution for office work, communication, and the countless hours of entertainment I can get from web browsing.
Of course, this is all in theory. While I expect Chrome OS to be a good product, I wonder if it will have the smooth start and hype that Gmail enjoyed or the bumpy path that Android is on. Whatever the case, Google's announcement has made the netbook market terribly interesting...and I'm not just saying that because the Chrome logo looks like a Pokeball.
What do you think of my analysis? Do you think Chrome OS will make a splash in 2010? What companies will it hurt the most? Leave a comment and let me know (please)!