Google Chrome OS: More of a Threat to Apple than Microsoft

spoonfed_google_os_shWhen you look at the pain points Google plans to address with its ambitious Chrome OS, it’s hard not to get a sense of déjà vu. The search giant has said that its upcoming operating system, which will be available on netbooks by the second half of next year, will boast much faster boot times than today’s PCs, be less vulnerable to malware attacks, and generally cause fewer headaches than Windows. In other words, Google is ripping a page from Apple’s marketing playbook—and, if I were Apple, I would watch my back. Of course, the Chrome OS likely won’t look or feel like Mac OS X. This open-source platform, according to Google’s blog, will have a stripped-down user interface that “is minimal to stay out of your way.” In other words, don’t expect fancy Stacks or Cover Flow-like eye candy. Google is emphasizing the Web and robust applications that run inside the browser, whether you’re online or not. So what does Apple have to fear from little old Chrome? Just look at who Google has already signed up. In a follow-up blog post, the company confirmed that several heavy hitters will be working with Google to support its new OS. On the hardware side are Acer (the No. 1 netbook maker) and HP (the No. 1 notebook maker overall), plus ASUS, Lenovo, and Toshiba. The only big gun missing from that impressive roster—so far—is Dell. Other partners include Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and Freescale, all of which are making ARM–based processors for next-generation smartbooks. Last, but not least, is Adobe, which pretty much tells you that the Chrome OS will fully support Flash come hell or high water, a feat that thus far has proved difficult on the more smart-phone–centric Android. When you look at Apple’s market share, which stands at 5 percent worldwide and about 10 percent in the U.S., it’s more than respectable, especially given the premium associated with Mac hardware. But Google Chrome OS will likely take a big bite of Apple once its partners hit the ground. Their devices will likely cost considerably less than anything in Apple’s lineup while delivering the “anti Windows” experience many consumers crave. Moreover, Chrome will likely be as customizable as Android, which will allow Acer, HP, and others to differentiate their wares with proprietary software—much more so than they can with Windows. At the same time, the new OS should allow consumers to personalize their Chrome experience in ways Mac cannot. To be sure, Chrome is an unproven commodity, and there’s much to be said for the tight integration of Macs’ hardware and software. Plus, the second half of 2010 is a long time—and several Apple product launches—away. Nevertheless, on day two Google’s OS already has more momentum behind it than all the other Linux upstarts combined. And now Apple is faced with the reality that in this next critical stage of the OS wars, merely “thinking different” than Microsoft won’t be enough. Editor-in-chief Mark Spoonauer directs LAPTOP’s online and print editorial content and has been covering mobile and wireless technology for over a decade. Each week Mark’s SpoonFed column provides his insights and analysis of the biggest mobile trends and news. You can also follow him on twitter.

AUTHOR BIO
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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  1. JonGl Says:

    I dunno. People are viewing ChromeOS as a replacement for the desktop OS, but I don’t expect we will see that in the end. The web is great for some things, but I just don’t see it replacing the desktop. If you need an example, look at the iPhone–and also the Pre. Two mobile environments, that, if a web-based “OS” were to succeed, it would certainly be there. When these phones came out, the only option for “apps” was web-based apps–and when the iPhone came out, developers really pushed the envelope on what they were capable of–but what won out in the end? Genuine iPhone apps on the actual device. WebOS is going to encounter the same thing–Android already is.

    So, keeping that in mind, what is going to limit ChromeOS is apps–what will be available for it? As I read their blog post, their choice of words seem to indicate that their “Linux-based” OS will not be based upon Xorg or X11. This means that all their apps will be incompatible with all other gui-based Linux apps. This will mean re-coding to run. The one benefit of Linux is the plethora of free software (from the user’s standpoint, that is–free, as in drinks).

    As a long-time Mac user (and Linux-user for the past 3 years or so), for myself, it’s all about the apps, and not just the interface. This does not mean that the user interface is not important–it is _vital_ to those apps working. This is why, when all is said and done, when I need to get real work done, I always fall back on my MacOS software and OS. It has the interface I need, and the apps I need. I use software on my Mac (Nisus Writer Pro, DevonThink, Keynote, Accordance and MacSword) that just don’t exist on any other platform–and I don’t see ever existing. There are a lot of some of the greatest apps in the world (sadly, sometimes the best-kept secrets) that just don’t and won’t exist on non-MacOS systems. People who use their Macs for more than just “web-based” stuff won’t change. I’m sure that Windows-users are in the exact same boat. For ChromeOS starting out cold, on a desktop environment, I don’t see it happening–at least any time soon.

    Google is betting on the concept of the cloud and mobile computing, but people, like me, who still need to get work done, when they need to do it, will pull out their big boys (even if they are running on a 10″ “netbook”) ;-)

    I also realized I should add that I’m no stranger to “cloud” computing. I use GoogleDocs for some pretty important work, but it’s best for collaborative work, or sharing–and Spreadsheets is amazing to share with someone! ;-) But invariably, when I need to do heavy lifting on our online spreadsheets, it’s download time and open in OOo or Numbers, and re-upload when done. The Cloud has its place, but it’s no replacement.

    My personal prediction–if I dare be so bold–is that ChOS will do better than your typical Linux-netbook, but not take over the desktop, nor will it particularly take market share away from anything. I think it will grow the market.

    -Jon

  2. Poppa_P Says:

    Yes people say they would like to move away from Windows but the majority of people are still techno phobes when it comes to setting up another operating system so I don’t think Google Chrome will make that much of a dent in Windows sales.
    I try to use different systems and I find OSX the best so far and the windows users I talk to would like to have an Apple computer above anything else but are put off by the price.
    Why not carry your operating system with you on a usb pen-drive so no matter what computer you use so long as it can be set to boot from a usb device, you can have your documents and files and browser setup to use straight away,I am doing this with Linux Mint 7 and found it really easy to setup and use.

  3. Steffen Says:

    It is surely not an offense against Apple but against Windows. It is for a standard home users only need a PC or Notebook for daily works as EMail, Internet browsing, word processing and do not care about anything else about their computer. The partnerships let us guess that it will be pre-installed on many PCs.

    Apple users want a complete package of a high integrated and reliable computer. They often pay more money because they need it for work. So the consumers are completely different from the Windows users. Maybe the author never had an Apple or a Linux computer, but users choose it because these OS’s are much more advanced, secure, reliable and user friendly than Windows.

    The reason why so many users still use Windows is that it is pre-installed and they say that they do not need more.

  4. Janus Says:

    This betrays a clear lack of knowledge as to what makes Apple customers buy Apple products. I don’t buy Apple because I hate Microsoft (though I do hate Microsoft). I buy Apple because I really like Apple, its OS, and the simple-yet-powerful software that is the hallmark of Apple’s own apps and those of its developers.

    The “anti-WIndows” crowd is the one using Linux–and they’re usually no big fans of Apple either.

  5. Mark Spoonauer Says:

    Janus, if what you say is true then why does Apple’s marketing message continue to be dominated by what is wrong with Windows? I agree with you that the Mac OS has its strengths, as does its hardware and performance, but that’s not what is coming across in the ads.

  6. Robin Harris Says:

    Apple’s ads concentrate on Windows because that’s where the money is.

    You don’t have to hate Toyota to buy a Honda – you just have to like Honda. Apple is skimming the cream – the high-end, high-margin buyers – off the Windows market. How are those buyers going to know why they should buy Apple if you don’t compare them to what they already know?

    Given Apple’s profits and market share gains one can only conclude that that Apple’s target demographic does buy into Apple’s strengths. If they aren’t, why are they paying more?

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