After the original explosion of Google Chrome OS related articles immediately after the announcement, today we get the day-after "thoughtful" posts exploring what it all means, and what will really happen with Google, Chrome OS, and the supposed arch-enemies of the two, Microsoft and Windows.
As is typical, these reveal some of the deeper misconceptions surrounding the situation. Representative of this pack is Farhad Manjoo's "The Google OS is doomed: Five reasons why Google's new Chrome operating system is a bad idea." Those five reasons encompass most of the other arguments I have heard in this vein so far:
- Linux is hard to love
- We aren't ready to run everything on the Web
- Microsoft is a formidable opponent
- Google fails often
- The Chrome OS makes no business sense
I'll address these, point by point, after the jump.
Linux is hard to love
John Gruber at Daring Fireball successfully refutes the first point in a cooler assessment, though he isn't particularly positive about the chances of the new OS either. But he does point out that Chrome OS isn't Linux in the sense that less sophisticated observers take it to be, that of a packaged operating system; it will be based on a Linux kernel, and assuming it is going to be an Ubuntu knock-off based on that is like assuming that OS X is like FreeBSD because they both evolved out of the Mach microkernel. Google has every incentive to create something entirely different from this platform, just as Apple did from the ashes of NeXT.
We aren't ready to run everything on the web
Much of Gruber's negativity seems to come from developer bias, particularly the significance he places on native applications and their appeal to users over web apps. But most users don't really understand the difference and to the extent that they have a functional preference for native applications, it is mostly because web applications simply don't work as well on today's platforms. That is Manjoo's second point, as well. But this fact of today's web is exactly what Google is trying to address with Chrome and by extension Chrome OS (you can see the original Chrome introductory comic book for the justifications) so it seems a little odd to evaluate it on the unstated assumption that it will fail in that regard. If it comes out, and does what it promises to do, then the functional gap goes away.
Microsoft is a formidable opponent
I mentioned yesterday the folly of attempting to cast this announcement strictly against Microsoft and the perceived competition with Windows. This is a battle of philosophies, not companies. Failing to account for the possibility that the entire playing field will shift makes it hard to evaluate all this in terms simply of the strengths and weaknesses of two teams. Manjoo's math is correct but his assessment is faulty; Vista's sales performance came primarily from PC sales performance, not from any real demand or perceived advantage from the OS itself. Moreover, that weakness is now a fundamental one: as Manjoo mentions but fails to highlight, during the brief reign of Vista, Windows market share dropped five percent. That's a small percentage but it represents significant exposure of other operating systems to people who previously assumed that Windows was the only possible solution. Windows 7 is a better OS… and it has to be, because it's going to have to fight the lingering perception Vista stamped on Windows, as well as fresh competition from Google, Apple, and elsewhere.
Google fails often
Hard to argue with that one… I'll concede the point, while stipulating that a lot of the time, they just don't seem to be trying very hard. They may not push Chrome OS hard enough, either, but that says little about the idea on its own merits.
The Chrome OS makes no business sense
This is perhaps the most misplaced criticism in that it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of why Google chose to develop Chrome, and subsequently Chrome OS, in the first place (again, I refer everyone to the introductory comic book). It's related to the second point, that we aren't ready to run everything on the web yet. That is absolutely true, and it is a major roadblock to Google's future success. The company understands that to be the case, and understands that the reason is that little has been done to make us ready to run everything on the web. Nor are other major companies motivated to do so… their cash cows lay in other pastures. We don't like web apps today because they have been kludged together on a series of platforms that were never designed to run them, or to do so smoothly and taking full advantage of the client's power. If Google hopes to expand its ad and service empire, it's going to have to change that state of affairs itself. The more people use the web, the more money Google stands to pocket… and that makes all the business sense in the world.
None of this is to say that Chrome OS will necessarily succeed or to defend various mis-steps the company has or is likely to make in the process. But it is an easy effort to understand if you understand Google's profit and motivations, and a forward-looking analysis of the market clearly shows a gap that this product might fill. If Google doesn't pull it off, someone will.