Opinion - Google's upcoming Chrome operating system may be many things to many people, but one thing it certainly ain't is an operating system. Neither is it a threat to Microsoft. And it couldn't play into Microsoft's hands any better if they'd paid Google to develop ChromeOS.
While bloggers who wouldn't recognise an operating system if it bit them in the ass are frothing at the mouth and screaming that the sky over Redmond is about to fall, more experienced industry observers are pointing out that Chrome is a browser and that bolting on a bunch of device drivers doesn't magically turn it into an OS. You can put as much lipstick as you want on Sarah Palin, but…
My first reaction to the ChromeOS news was to wonder exactly what was in it for Google to produce yet another variant of Linux. I wondered about this for about two seconds. What Google wants is you. It wants your searches; your ad revenue; your data; your heart and soul.
Nearly every time you click on a website, regardless of whether you use IE8, Firefox, Safari, Chrome or even Opera - which has two users, both called Colin, who live in Baltimore - you are diverted through machines owned and run by Google. Google knows who you are and where you live. It knows what you're interested in so it can target ads at you more accurately. Practically every transaction on the web involves Google in some way.
But that's not enough. What the company wants is more of you. It may already look after your email for you, but it wants all your data as well. It wants you to use its web-based apps to manipulate that data. It wants to remove your ability to choose what apps you load on your machine. Google wants it all. This is obviously good news for the government, as they'll have a one-stop shop to go to when they want to find out what you've been up to.
Half a brain
Anyway, why is this such good news for Microsoft, I hear you ask. Quite simply, anyone with half a brain should be jumping up and down and demanding that Google backs off. If Microsoft and Intel are bogeymen, Google is the devil incarnate. If you're not very worried indeed about Google, you probably suffer from learning difficulties.
Google, in short, is taking the heat off Microsoft by posing a real threat to everyone who uses a computer.
The European Union, bloggers with a crystal meth habit and fanboys of every persuasion think it's cool to put Microsoft down and to support the little guy against The Man. Forgetting for a moment that Apple fanboys are already owned by a monopolistic company that controls the hardware, software, the music they listen to and the phones they bore everyone to death about, Microsoft isn't a monopoly at all.
Microsoft makes operating systems and applications that run under them. It doesn't build computers and it doesn't want you to give it all its data to look after. Intel builds chips, but it doesn't make PCs and it doesn't try to sell you operating systems and applications. Yet both these companies are constantly accused of monopolistic and predatory behavior. They are frequently fined the GNP of Belgium for these crimes.
Meanwhile, Google is praised to the rooftops for attempting to usurp Microsoft's dominant position on the desktop. With a browser. Running under Linux. On a netbook. It wants you to use a netbook because they're so hopeless you won't be able to run anything more demanding than Tetris on them anyway. We'll come back to netbooks in a moment.
Linux under threat
To be a threat to anyone at all - and let's make no mistake, Chrome OS is much more of a threat to OSX and every Linux distro out there than it is to Microsoft - it cannot use a web-based model. If you imagine for a moment that multinational corporations are going to hand over the data they've amassed over the last 50 years to what is still in corporate terms a startup, I want some of what you're smoking.
Linux fans should be very worried indeed. For years, Linux has been a hobbyists OS with an infinite variety of things to tweak and play around with to avoid doing any real work. Google has the marketing nous and clout to make Linux succeed, even if it's only as the platform on which the Chrome browser sits. What this will mean is there will soon be only one version of Linux and it will carry a Google logo. Linux fanboys will have to take up trainspotting or butterfly collecting to fill their leisure hours.
If you think professional Photoshop users or record producers are going to be happy working across a flaky network while manipulating terabytes of data with multiple levels of undo, you are clinically insane.
The Netbook dead end
Thin clients have been tried before and been found wanting. Netbooks are, to use a technical term, crap. They're too big to be a PDA you can put in your pocket and too feeble to do anything other than update your Facebook page. I use a notebook with two processor cores, four gig of RAM, a 160GB hard disc and a big, bright screen, running Windows 7. It will run in my local pub for three hours before I need to go home and recharge it. How long a lunch do you need?
When I get home I have a more powerful Win7 box that I do most of my work on. Another couple of machines sit in the corner and handle backups, storing music and video and so on. There is no way I'm replacing any of this with a pathetic netbook and betting the farm on Google and the bit of wire linking me to their servers to be available 24/7.
A netbook is really just an iPhone that's too big to go in your pocket, but Google fondly imagines it can form the thin end of the wedge to knock Microsoft off its perch, with ChromeOS eventually worming its way onto desktops and servers. Dream on.
So eventually we come to the executive summary: when people finally wake up and smell the coffee, Google will step into the antitrust spotlight, taking the heat off Microsoft.
Google is no threat to Microsoft with its current half-baked plan for world domination. But make no mistake, Google has a plan for world domination.
Just thank God they're not evil, eh?