The news is finally out: Google is to launch an operating system named as the Chrome OS (bearing the same name with the browser. As stated from the official Google blog: “The Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks…. will open-source its code, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010.” Note also that the OS will run on both X86 and ARM chips and the operating system is running on top of a Linux kernel. Here are the three reasons why Google has decided to launch an operating system in the midst of a crowded space of competitors of not just Windows but Mac OS X and Linux as well (from a business perspective):
- Adoption of the Cloud from consumers is taking a bit longer than expected: First of all, in the past few years ago, when Google launched various apps (e.g. GMail, Docs, Calendar, Spreadsheet) together with Android, it was clear that the strategy is that people will access data and applications from the Internet through a browser and gradually, people will shift from desktop to the mobile phone (which is called the 4th screen by Nokia which gives the power of portability and access to content from the Internet). The mobile phone was the device which Google bet on that it will sidestep Microsoft (given Windows CE does not go well with phones except HTC devices). Despite the rumors of a Google OS were circulating around, Google has proved resilient to make that announcement time and time again until now. What is different in today’s world that Google would have revisited their strategy a few years ago? One clear argument is that the adoption of the Google Office Applications (Documents, Spreadsheets and Presentations) is slow. The reason why it is slow goes in two perspectives: (i) if I am a consumer who writes a document, I am worried about security even though if there is a collaborative perspective towards it, (ii) in the enterprise perspective, most companies will be resistant to have their data sitting on another server and naturally, it will slow down adoption since ultimately, Google will need the enterprise market and the consumer market to move towards the cloud. People are moving towards the Cloud, but the rate of that is not fast enough. So, they need an operating system.
- Android is facing stiff competition from Symbian, iPhone OS and many other competitors: The problem is just not with the users’ adoption with the cloud. In the mobile phone OS space, Android is facing serious competition from iPhone OS (Apple), Symbian (Nokia Smartphones) and Web OS (Palm Pre). The contest in the mobile-web space between several mobile operating systems is heating up. Most developers are in the iPhone OS and Symbian space, and with Nokia pushing their applications via the Ovi Store and their inherent competitive advantage with their handsets, Google Android is at the mercy of the handsets from several vendors. Although the number of android apps are growing, the pace of development is still far slower as compared to the iTunes Apps Store.
- Take one step down and we have the OS and focus on Netbooks: Given the adoption of cloud is slow and the competition faced by Android, Google need to re-align her strategy. Here are the options they can choose: (i) they create their hardware and forget about the mobile phone vendors and computers, for e.g. they can go the Apple way with phones and operating system, (ii) they continue to do hard sell of Google Apps to the enterprise and consumer sector but it takes time for market adoption, or the last option, (iii) Google’s strength is in software, why not create an OS and compete for the desktop and laptop space where Microsoft is still dominant in the PC market. In effect, Google Chrome OS strategy will not pose a major threat to Mac OS X and Linux. By targeting specifically to the netbooks space, they are going for emerging markets and given their brand and innovative software development, they can give Microsoft a hard time in the PC space.
Under all these circumstances, it is not surprising that Google is taking the step to challenge Microsoft in the space of netbooks. In fact, they can team up with the OLPC project and make it really hard for Windows to penetrate into the emerging economies.
 Google Operating System: Google Chrome Operating System.
 TechCrunch: Google Drops A Nuclear Bomb On Microsoft. And It’s Made of Chrome.
 The Next Web: Prediction: Google and Apple go to War.
 The Economist: Google vs Microsoft – Clash of the Titans.
 Ars Technica: Google’s Chrome OS: what it means, why it matters.
 ZDNet: No thanks Google, we’ve got Ubuntu.
 Neowin: Microsoft set to respond to Google OS Next Monday?