For Microsoft and Google, Battleground Shifts to Web-Based Operating Systems

7/8/09Follow @gthuang

The fight between Microsoft and Google for the future of computing just got more intense. Last night, Google officially announced a new project, a Web browser-based operating system called Google Chrome OS, which will initially target netbooks. Google said it would make the code available on an open-source basis later this year, and plans to put the operating system on netbooks for consumers in the second half of 2010.

The announcement looks to hit Microsoft where it really counts—on its home turf of PC operating systems. It is a direct threat to the Redmond, WA, company’s biggest product, Microsoft Windows. But there is nothing too surprising about this news. With the launch of the Google Chrome browser nine months ago, and applications like Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs finally emerging from beta this week, the move just underscores the idea that Google is getting serious about the Web as the operating system of the future.

Make no mistake about it, Microsoft is ready for this. Last week, the company posted some detailed thoughts about its own browser-based operating system project, called Gazelle. OK, maybe it’s too soon to call Gazelle an operating system—it’s more like a browser that behaves a little like an operating system, doing things like allocating computing resources and protecting Web applications from each other. There’s even a rumor that Microsoft will make a big announcement on Monday related to Gazelle or other Web-based software.

I think all of this is posturing at this point. Google’s operating system won’t be available on actual hardware for another year. Windows 7 will come out in October, and we’ll see how it does on netbooks, as well as PCs. Some computing experts and critics are already complaining about privacy issues with Web-based operating systems. (Do you really want Google to know your every move on your PC as well as the Web?) So while some are calling Google Chrome OS a “nuclear bomb” dropped on Microsoft, I see it more as an official passing of the torch, and the beginning of a regime change in public perception—from one evil empire to another.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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  • http://www.techdusts.com Krishna Santani

    Its groundbreaking idea from Google web OS and they are planning to wipe out Windows in a most strategic manner. Google clearly pointing to Microsoft when they say “The operating systems that browsers run were designed in an era where there was no web”. But there are few questions which are unanswered like what will happen when we will go offline in Chrome OS? Can we use offline applications like iTunes or Photoshop? Can we run third party applications? How they are going to make profit from it ? I am also bit concerned whether Chrome OS will be embraced by enterprises as it is open source and web based as there is always a security issue….Just wait another thought can Chrome OS will become a global hit especially in small countries where internet is very fickle. But leaving these things aside its going to be win-win situation for the users and it will be interesting to witness the war between giants.

  • Daniel

    Arguably Microsoft’s largest advantage is that their software is bundled with virtually every PC that’s sold. Most casual users don’t care too much about what OS. More advanced users are very particular about their OS because they’re used to a specific framework. So I don’t see the Chrome OS wiping anything out.

    Some offline programs should work, since it’s built around Linux.

    On the other hand, netbooks being virtually useless at the moment (how much convenience does the smaller size offer really, considering the functionality of a laptop?), I think this OS has some promise for netbook users (which is still a tiny percentage of overall computer users).

    You can also see the more mainstream response at http://www.newsy.com/videos/google_gears_up_for_os, which seems to mostly agree with your response, Krishna.

  • http://InflectoSystems(WebBasedSoftware) Inflecto Systems (Web Based Software)

    I think net books definitely have there purpose especially in a world where more and more software is behind delivered using a SaaS model. I’m not surprised that Google are getting in on the action and am sure they will do a very good job. It will be interesting to see if we get any products from Microsoft or perhaps more interestingly from Apple to compete in this area.

    For me the problem with netbooks is the screen size. I would like to see a slightly larger screen but in a package that is still much lighter than my laptop and doesn’t burn me when I try to use it on my lap!

  • Eric Hawthorne

    The significance of netbooks is the percentage of your waking life that you have them with you and ready to surf net.

    For me:
    iPhone: 95% (but incomplete web and app functionality)

    Netbook: 75% (ok but not stellar web and app functionality) (if I had one).

    Laptop: 20% (great web and app functionality)

    Sweet spot is a thinner, lighter smaller netbook that somehow opens up to a bigger screen and full keyboard, so that the numbers start to look like:
    UltraNetbook: 90% (great web and app functionality)

  • http://www.webvideos.co.uk corporate video

    i suppose now gmail will be coming out of beta

  • http://www.skeletonproductions.com/ Video Production

    Now that Google apps are all out of their beta stages, what are we all thinking to living with these software changes fully in place in our every day lives?

    AH