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Google this week unveiled its Chrome OS project, an open-source, Linux-based lightweight operating system for Internet-centric computing. The announcement comes on the heels of Google's removal of the beta labels from its Google Apps services, its debut of Google Voice, and the launch of an industry-rallying campaign called "Let's make the Web faster."
Google is targeting Microsoft's core businesses – the client OS and Office – that earned the company nearly $36 billion in 2008, and Microsoft's emerging online services strategy.
Google's rapid fire public relations over the past two weeks wasn't so much coincidence as it was the fact that Microsoft is set to make an online services splash this week at its annual conference of partners, a juggernaut Google may need to emulate to be successful.
In addition, Microsoft is just over three months from delivering its next operating system – Windows 7, which includes a version for the netbook platform Google is targeting with Chrome OS. Google's OS won't ship for 18 months.
Google clearly is rushing to get its strategy and its services aligned for the next round of battle with the software giant, which has a product pipeline set to gush between now and the end of 2010. The questions, however, are how ready is Google, can it create something compellingly different and innovative, and if it does, what size dent can it make in the Microsoft armor?
The ramp up was slow as the Chrome OS announcement came in a very un-Google-like fashion, arriving without any active code and in the form of blogware.
"With Windows 7 about to ship, it would have been better for Google to release, rather than simply announce, an alternative for the netbook market," wrote Laurent Lachal, open source director at Ovum, in a research note. "Key to Google's OS success will be its ability to create a strong community around it. This is going to be difficult. A rethink of the project based on an alliance/convergence effort with the Ubuntu [Linux] community could help."
The Chrome OS introduction raises more questions than it answers. Google has yet to explain exactly how it will function and why it will be better than current browser access to Web-based applications.
The big challenge will be to prove that the operating system works and works well enough to
trigger significant adoption. IDC forecasts that Microsoft will ship 117 million copies of Windows in 2010 with half being Windows 7.
Chipping at those numbers will be difficult since Google is only targeting the netbook subset of the personal computing market.
Experts say Google must create an exciting rush of innovation comparable to what Apple's iPhone achieved.
"This could be an opportunity to take this stuff in the browser and bring it closer to the desktop environment and make things appear to run natively from the desktop," says Al Gillen, an analyst with IDC. "This is speculation, but if Google could make that kind of leapfrog forward they could do something really interesting here."