Since late 2009, talk of how Google’s Chrome OS is being positioned to “take on” Microsoft Windows has been promoted by individuals who I believe have no idea what they’re talking about.
By Google’s own admission, Chrome OS is being designed for near exclusive use on netbook computers, due to its minimalist nature. And as we know, netbooks make up a small piece of the collective PC market. This clearly leaves out of desktops and laptops, which will remain dominated by the Windows OS (near term, at least).
This leads us to consider that Microsoft’s Windows OS is not the target for Google after all. So the next line of thought leads us to wonder if perhaps Chrome OS is being created to take on something closer to its own design – for instance, Ubuntu Linux?
Or perhaps instead there’s yet another alternative target that Google has yet to reveal?
In this article I’ll explore all these possibilities and share some of my own thoughts as I see the future of Chrome OS moving forward. I will discuss how Ubuntu, Windows and yes, even OS X might play into Google’s long term game plan.
Is Chrome OS Linux or not?
In order for there to be a any correlation between Ubuntu and Chrome OS, we need to determine how similar Linux and Chrome OS actually are. Chrome OS is indeed based on the Linux kernel. The Chrome OS project has also benefited greatly from code provided by Moblin and Ubuntu as well.
So given that Linux is basically a kernel, then it’s safe to point out that Chrome OS is indeed based on Linux.
Like Linux distributions such as Red Hat and SuSE, Chrome OS has a development base and what will likely become a main user base. The development base would be the open source project known as Chromium OS while the future user base is expected to be what we call Chrome OS.
The differences between the two is that the latter has yet to be put out there for testing, while Chromium OS is available for developers to get their feet wet with the code provided.
In short, they’re essentially one in the same, each holding its Linux roots close to its core.
Chrome OS isn’t competing with Windows
Google isn’t trying to compete with Windows or Ubuntu. To Google, the desktop operating system is merely a means to an end.
Unlike Microsoft, which works to maintain dominance on the desktop, Google is fine with allowing the Redmond giant to fight it out with other platform players while Google sticks to what it knows best – advertising and web-based services on all platforms.
While Microsoft seeks out market share for their operating system and other software, Google is looking to continue to build presence on as many platforms as possible. This effort includes (of course) their own Chrome OS, in addition to Windows, OS X and other Linux distributions.
But perhaps the biggest thing keeping Chrome OS from being an issue for Ubuntu — or even Windows for that matter — is the fact that you won’t be able to install it yourself. According to my research, it will be available pre-installed only.
Will Chrome OS become a boon to other Linux distributions?
I believe Chrome OS is a benefit for other Linux distributions thanks to the likelihood of contributed code. Despite this, however, the idea that Google is getting people to give alternative operating systems a second look is merely happenstance and luck for those who want to see the Linux gain on the Windows OS.
No, I think that Google is utilizing Linux code to build its Chrome OS project, then promote what I believe to be an tool that could gain major traction: A Google Chrome Webstore for desktop computing.
Here’s the takeaway. Let’s say Google has success with its proposed Chrome app store marketplace, a market similar to the one they already provide for their Android OS users. The difference being that we’ll see made-for-desktop applications being presented, instead of applications designed exclusively for mobile users.
Even better, Web-based applications will run on any OS used by those buying from the Chrome app store marketplace.
So considering that Google is aiming their Chrome OS at the netbook market to begin with, this keeps Google’s efforts with Chrome OS in a growth market, while at the same time protecting against major downside should the project fizzle. Not bad: room for a raging success, while insulating the company from potential failure. (And remember, Google controls who has access to Chrome OS and who doesn’t.)
Chrome OS and Android, redundant?
Thus far we’ve explored the likelihood that Chrome OS is not designed to compete with any given operating system. Rather, I’ve pointed out that, like most Google projects, there’s something much larger at work here.
The only issue with this kind of speculation is that Android is already available from Google. It’s usable on existing netbooks, plus the application marketplace already exists on Android.
So why even bother with Chrome OS at all if not to compete with Microsoft Windows?
Here is why:
1. Android is limited in comparison to a desktop operating system. Offering a marketplace on a desktop-based OS translates into a larger market share for both Google and those selling software through this venue.
2. Chrome OS provides the perfect testing ground completely separate from Android, Ubuntu Linux, Windows and so on. If an application marketplace for desktop software fails, Google can save face by explaining it was a beta experiment.
I’ve looked at how Ubuntu and Chrome OS clearly have two separate destinies, in which neither overlaps directly with the other. Considering my belief that Chrome OS is merely a means to accessing Google services and promoting another app marketplace, I don’t see Ubuntu being threatened by Chrome OS at all. Google has no reason to offer it to anyone beyond the tightly controlled netbook market.
One caution: offering a web-based application store without plenty of controlled testing would be a bad move for Google. So providing such a thing on Chrome OS makes complete sense. If successful, I see this new web-based application marketplace being available for Windows, OS X and yes eventually, Linux distributions such as Ubuntu.