Google Demos Chrome OS, Microsoft Links Into LinkedIn, Amazon Ramps Up for Holidays, & More Big Company News

11/20/09Follow @gthuang

It’s been a busy week around here for the big tech companies. At Xconomy, we don’t usually report on things like product releases from Microsoft or sales figures from Amazon—our main focus is on new ideas, models, and companies—but readers need to understand where the big players are heading so they can see the gaps and opportunities for new businesses. So, for each of these pieces of mainstream tech news, I’ll tell you why savvy innovators and business leaders should care.

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) demonstrated its Web-based Chrome operating system for the first time in public yesterday. It won’t be available for another year, but the tech community is scrambling to understand all the implications. (Google’s Seattle engineers have contributed technology to the Chrome Web browser, helping to boost security—one potential advantage of a cloud-based operating system).

Sure, a fully cloud-based OS is a direct threat to Microsoft’s business model and the ecosystem of companies that support Windows. But more than that, it could reshape the landscape of online advertising by providing a new platform for launching ads on mobile devices, video channels (YouTube), and Internet TV. Perhaps the only thing that can slow down Google’s dominance on the Web is the federal government. In other words, this could get ugly.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has teamed up with LinkedIn to provide info about your business contacts within Outlook e-mail. It’s all part of Microsoft’s Outlook Social Connector, an add-in that feeds you data from your social networks. Integrating e-mail with social networks and search is a fast-growing area, with startups like Gist in Seattle (backed by Paul Allen and Foundry Group) helping lead the way. Gist’s CEO T.A. McCann told TechFlash that he’s known about Microsoft’s effort for a while and doesn’t see it as a direct challenge. Gist’s offering is more advanced, he said, and it includes features like integrating with Salesforce.com and the iPhone. But startups and investors beware: if you’re in this crowded space, you better have a product that cuts through the noise and has a way to attract customers fast.

RealNetworks (NASDAQ: RNWK) is in discussions with Viacom’s MTV Networks to sell off at least some of its stake in the Rhapsody music service, as first reported by PaidContent. In a regulatory filing, prompted by a tender offer to issue new stock, Real said it is in talks to reorganize the management structure and/or corporate governance of the division, which might mean giving up its majority ownership stake (51 percent) in Rhapsody. Back in September, digital-media guru Bill Baxter (now at Seattle-based Cozi) wrote in Xconomy about Rhapsody’s fierce competition with Pandora, iTunes, and piracy. Message to startups: the world of digital music services is probably not where you want to be.

Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) has been busy ramping up operations ahead of the holiday shopping season. Its billion-dollar acquisition of Zappos is helping it expand into shoes and apparel, and its Kindle sales look poised to take off, especially now that Barnes & Noble’s competing e-book reader, the Nook, has sold out until January. Amazon has really become the business and technology model to follow in online retail and product search. While there is still room for e-commerce startups to compete in various niches, they would be wise to study how Amazon built its brand and customer relationships before branching out to the wider world of retail.

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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