Google Chrome OS Announced. Windows 7 May Have Arrived Just In Time.

But the amazing success of iPhone apps highlights a flaw in Google's web app centric strategy

If there was any doubt Microsoft and Google were out to eat each other's lunch, both companies have proved they're going after the other's core business; desktop OS+apps and search, respectively. Microsoft upped the ante big time with Bing. Google's responding right on the heels of the Google Wave announcement with Google Chrome OS. The timing of both Google announcements are clearly intended to throw Microsoft customers a curveball right before the Window 7 release, but I'm not sure it will have much of an impact in the short run. Longer term, well, that could be a different story.

Chrome OS is taking a much different path than traditional OSs like Windows. Google Chrome OS is essentially a Google optimzed Linux kernel with a thin desktop UI layer (we'll see why it will be thin in a moment) that relies on the Google Chrome browser as the app UI layer. Let's take apart Google's blog post announcement bit by bit to see what Google's planning to do. FYI - This info is only hours old, so I reserve the right to change my mind with a little more time to digest and analyze the announcement. :)

For application developers, the web is the platform. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies.

To me this implies everything will be a web app; there won't be installed apps (besides the browser). Now I do have to wonder what "favorite web technologies" means. Flash, Ajax and JavaScript? Or is Google being more coy here and hinting that apps might be all Google Wave based, with backwards compatibility (JavaScript, etc.) for non-Wave based apps?

People want to get to their email instantly, without wasting time waiting for their computers to boot and browsers to start up.

Gmail, plus other Google apps of course. Fast boot because a thin Linux OS just needs to get up and going enough to launch the Chrome browser.

They want their computers to always run as fast as when they first bought them.

No apps or other software need be (or allowed?) installed locally in the OS. Everything is a web app so there's no apps or utilities being installed that will slow down the OS.

They want their data to be accessible to them wherever they are and not have to worry about losing their computer or forgetting to back up files.

Web apps' data are persisted at the hosted site so there's no need for local storage for applications. Thus, little need to back up your Google Chrome OS Netbook (or PC down the road), especially if the device comes with a recovery partition you can use to reset things if something serious goes wrong.

Even more importantly, they don't want to spend hours configuring their computers to work with every new piece of hardware, or have to worry about constant software updates.

Again, if everything's a web app then there's no local software to worry about configuring and updating.

The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel.

In summary, it sounds like Google Chrome browser, running in a really thin desktop UI layer, with Linux as the OS. If everything is a web app and data storage is in Google web apps (in the cloud), you don't need much more than a browser.

Bottom line, Google's essentially announcing an OS for web user appliances. It fits really well with what a Netbook is supposed to do; email and browsing. That's a much different OS than Windows 7, and Google intends it be that way.

I see this as a big audacious bet by Google from two standpoints. Apps will almost always be web apps (the way we think of web apps today), and in situations where an installed app would be better, Google Wave will fill the need.

You might ask what I mean by that second point, "in situations where an installed app would be better" -- isn't everything becoming a web app? Isn't Microsoft moving their Office products into the cloud (i.e. they're becoming web apps)? SaaS is all the rage, etc. etc. Not too long ago I would have said yes, everything's becoming web-ized (becoming a web app), but I've changed my mind about that for several reasons... largely thanks to Apple.

If everything was going the way of web apps, we wouldn't see the mass quantities of iPhone apps being developed and consumed by iPhone users. The iPhone has the first really usable mobile web browser, but even Safari doesn't obviate the need for other apps. We also wouldn't see small, narrow desktop client apps for things like Twitter, IM clients, music players, yada-yada -- we'd see users going to the web for all these uses, but they don't always. We still want client apps for some things because, frankly, a web experience doesn't cut it, especially on mobile devices. If all Twitter had was the web site's interface, I'd probably use it 1/10th as much as I do using a client like TweekDeck. I don't read the WSJ via Safari on my iPhone, but I do read it using the iPhone WSJ app. Again, web apps aren't always the right fit, a client app is sometimes better. (I have a lot of other reasons why I believe this but that will have to be for another blog post.)

Now I will hedge my bet here by saying that the wildcard in all this is Google Wave. Wave has the potential to drastically change web apps from having the web page feel they do today, to having the behavior of the client apps I talked about.

If Google can pull this off, it will definitely be a game changer and in the long run could spell trouble for Microsoft Windows. The other thing Google has going for them is they are following in the footsteps of Apple's Mac OS X by using Linux as the real operating system under the hood of Google Chrome OS. Apple's shown that can be a very successful strategy.

The Google vs. Microsoft game is getting as interesting as last weekend's Federer vs. Roddick tennis match.

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