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

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 Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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