Google Chrome OS Could Be The Mac Steve Always Wanted to Release

by Hadley Stern Jul 09, 2009

Google's unsurprising announcement that it is releasing a light-weight operating system has played out in the media as Google declaring war on Microsoft. This is unsurprising as Microsoft has been the dominant player in the desktop ever since Apple screwed things up in the early nineties and let Microsoft walk all over it.

It is useful remembering the context of Microsoft's domination and how it won the war. It didn't win the war through a better product. Windows has sucked since it came out (although Windows 7 may be the first decent version of the operating system). Microsoft won the business war because it understood that customers wanted faux competition by being able to chose what type of hardware they could buy and not be locked into one company for hardware and software.

Microsoft won not because its products were better, but because its distribution model and focus on the enterprise was far superior.

Apple has made it very clear (to our benefit!) that its focus is the consumer--the everyman. This is why we have the iPod, iTunes, iPhoto and other products and applications focussed on empowering the consumer.

It is hard to tell where Google fits within this paradigm (if it does at all) but my feeling is that Google fits squarely in-between Apple and Microsoft. Or, put another way Google wants to dominate both the consumer and enterprise market.

It is safe to say that Google is as known a brand in the consumer and enterprise as Microsoft. Google has become a noun, verb, and every other kind of word. While we opine about the merits or lack thereof of Windows versus the Mac the fact is we are all using Google (Microsoft's lame attempts at the awfully named and designed Bing aside). While we argue about market-share between OS X and Windows we all use Google. Who is the true winner here?

It is within this context that the Google operating system is released and it is within this context that it is a real threat to Apple. The threats are multifarious, business, financial, philosophical, and the ability to say who owns the desktop.

When Steve Jobs took over the original Macintosh project he imbued in the team the notion that they were building the computer for everyone. The result was a revolutionary machine that everyone couldn't really afford. Apple can be forgiven, they were operating within a context that was brand new from a hardware, software and business model standpoint.

The problem is that 25 odd years later Apple still hasn't released a computer for everyone. This may be intentional, which is fine, but it is a fact.

The Google Chrome OS has the potential to be the computer for everyone. A machine that will be cheap and powerful. That out of the box will be able to run a myriad of very powerful applications, including email (Gmail), word processing and spreadsheets (Google Docs and no reason to buy iWork), photo management on par or exceeding iPhoto (Picassa) and of course the best search ever. And this is only a partial list of products that will be developed by Google. Who knows what Google will do in terms of exposing their APIs to developers who can build on top of their powerful web application framework.

Put another way if we look at the Macintosh and Windows within the context of the mobile phone market they are like the mobile phone space before the iPhone was released.

Put another way, Google Chrome OS is really going to shake things up.

For those of us who watch and care about Apple this is a good thing. I've written about it before and will continue to say it, Apple needs to come up with something new and different (and no, appending Snow to its operating system isn't enough) in order to take back the innovation mantle.

On the surface Google Chrome OS sounds benign enough; a GUI built on-top on Linux (sounds familiar) that powers a bunch of web applications. But as internet access, thanks to 3G and wireless, becomes pervasive, as cloud storage and computing becomes everyday a thin-client operating system accessing a variety of services makes a lot of sense for a lot of use-cases.

If I were Apple I would be excited, challenged and nervous about Google OS Chrome. Let's see how Apple reacts, hopefully it won't be with more tired tricks and additions to the WYSIWYG interface it popularized 25 plus years ago.


  • Apple will continue to make wonderful desktop software and try to continue to lock you in to their own “cloud” solution with Mobile Me.  They should have partnered with Google a while back and made all their software work with Google’s stuff. Forget Mobile Me.  Apple should have made everything work with GMail, Google Calendar, Blogger, Google Apps, etc. Store everything on Google. But design it on the Mac with native software.

    jocknerd had this to say on Jul 09, 2009 Posts: 23
  • Sorry, but I call ‘bullshit’ here. If you compare the state of Windows to the state of the Apple OS in early 2000, MS had a clearly better, more advanced OS: Windows 2000 on a Celeron knocked seven shades out of a green G3 with OS 9. I remember our studio’s graphic designer being jealous of and wowed by this cheap, £850 PC I brought into the office.

    Google Chrome OS will only shake up the world of bloggers who think they are tech experts. In the corporate world, no-one is getting rid of their desktop system. Your parents can’t edit the photos from their digital camera with a web based OS.

    The Chrome OS is for the kind of people who like to play with Linux in their spare time. It doesn’t touch the mass market, and Apple chase a certain segment of the mass market, not tech geeks. That’s why most Apple rumours these days refer to the iPhone rather than the next development in the Mac line.

    Apple don’t follow, they innovate. At the end of the day, Chrome OS is just another version of a trend Netscape tried (and failed) to make work in the mid-to-late 1990’s. Why would Apple become the next company to attempt this? Let Google spend the cash and make absolutely NO difference to anybody… Except so-called tech experts who can’t even get a job reporting on tech issues for a real publication (no offense to anyone on Applematters - I’m talking about TechCrunch, Ars Technica etc etc).

    In fact, aren’t Google turning into Sun? Great R&D;, a great place to work if you want to explore your every tech whim… but in 90% of cases the products are never commercially viable.

    All Google can do is give you ‘free’ products which harvest your private info to give you better targeted adverts, like when gMail scrapes your email contents to better serve you advertising.

    Apple is in the business, like Microsoft, of turning a profit. Google is not. The Google OS will never make an impact on the mainstream world, therefor Apple will not be pushed by it to make something new.

    They’re already working on something new. We have no idea what it is, but like the iMac, iPod and iPhone it will make a difference to everybody. Google? They’ll stick to finding ways to sell advertising.

    evilcat had this to say on Jul 09, 2009 Posts: 66
  • Google is popular because it is free.

    I could dump every Google product “quicker than minute rice” and not skip a beat. Not because Google isn’t cool but because I realize my fondness for Google product is enhanced because of their cost.  Google’s not winning any UI awards anytime soon.

    Picasa…pfffft that was hot stuff like 5 years ago. LOL

    hmurchison had this to say on Jul 09, 2009 Posts: 145
  • evailcat said: “Your parents can’t edit the photos from their digital camera with a web based OS.”

    Not so. Adobe has an online image editing app called Photoshop Express.

    and ” In the corporate world, no-one is getting rid of their desktop system.”

    Again, not so. Many organizations run thin-client technology on Citrix or Windows Terminal services. Across the board, it wouldn’t surprise if 80% of computers could be replaced with a thin-client box.

    Google are just kicking off what has long been predicted.

    @hmurchison. Totally agree. If Google’s apps cost the same as MobileMe (even if both were free), I’d dump Google apps on the spot. Apple needs to wake up to this and find a different monetization model for MobileMe.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Jul 09, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • Apple had released such an OS it is called the iPhone OS and it is on a Mac called the iPhone.

    AdamC had this to say on Jul 09, 2009 Posts: 3
  • Eh, I dunno.  Honestly for me personally.  I am not terribly excited about the idea of cloud computing.  I don’t know if most common people are either.  I mean seriously.  Why would I want google to know about every app I use.  All they would have to do is look at my server file and know everything I was doing that day.  Maybe it doesn’t really work like that.  But, I would be nervous about any corporation being able to see the contents of my computing at a whim.  In some ways it is already scary enough that even on Safari, one the better web browsers out there, that I can still get phished by a persistant hacker.  Google might revolutionize the business world.  Might.  But, in all truthfulness thin clients would only seem useful in a corporate environment to me.  Just because I can edit photos on Adobe’s think client doesn’t mean I want to.  I just don’t think anyone should be dependent on someone else for their computing (or other) needs.

    jman7171 had this to say on Jul 10, 2009 Posts: 7
  • Well, IMHO it is a bit odd that Google announce a OS without a beta, I meant to say that it is not the usual way to do this things. When Apple announced OS X, or the osx86 or any other version of its MacOs or iPhonOs they had a demo, just as MS demoed XP, Vista and Win7, of course you can argue that Chrome browser is the beta version of ChromOs but even that it does not hold water.
    How many of us use chrome? I did downloaded and tryed but that was about it. Yes it is an alternative to IE or Safari but that place have being taken by FireFox.
    If chrome was a success, I would see a reason to go forward but what is the share chrome has on the net? And android? is not well adopted, wouldn’t be better if google efforts were focused on its mobile OS?
    Google is a brand well known and have global market penetration but… Linux?! This OS was on netbooks and perhaps that is the reason they were not so… welcome? Because IMO it is not so easy to use, I have installed on some of my friends PCs but they get tired of it easily because it is somewhat confusing. For windows users it is easier to switch to the Mac than to Linux.
    ChromeOs would have more chances of success if it was not another Linux Distro.

    tropicoco had this to say on Jul 10, 2009 Posts: 8
  • Chris Howard: ‘Adobe has an online image editing app called Photoshop Express. ‘

    Fair enough, good point. But how about editing that wedding video and burning it to DVD?

    ‘Many organizations run thin-client technology on Citrix or Windows Terminal services. ‘

    Have you used these? I used Citrix at a large company and it was painful. Unbelievably slow. At times, almost unusable. Also, they are still running full versions of Windows, just they’re running from a central server, like using Parallels, but one server is shunting out 300 VM’s at once. And those VM’s are using desktop software. Until you can get Powerpoint, Visio, Project, those custom-built Access applications that always run so badly, and everything else running under Chrome OS, there’s no competition. Citrix et al are about giving more control to the IT department, not about handing it over to a third party like Google.

    evilcat had this to say on Jul 10, 2009 Posts: 66
  • Nothing will come of the Chrome OS.

    Hugmup had this to say on Jul 10, 2009 Posts: 40
  • I totally agree with Evilcat.

    Chrome OS Linux distro is going nowhere. In the real Google world (they can dream alright), FREE has its price - your “cloud” privacy.

    Give me a little PC/Mac box I can control with all my whims and wants without big bro G looking over my back to sell me targeted ads I will never want.

    Nice try Hadley.

    Robomac had this to say on Jul 10, 2009 Posts: 846
  • Cloud computing has no future, except maybe for handelds.

    ediediedi had this to say on Jul 15, 2009 Posts: 6
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