Google just dropped a bombshell this week, and Microsoft is feeling the flop sweat beginning to drip at the back of its corporate neck. After months of hints, the search giant announced its Chrome operating system would be ready to go by the middle of next year. The news holds considerable clout coming from a huge company with deep pockets. Google is in the midst of designing an OS specifically created for the Web. And the Web is everything.
Still, a year is a long time. What's going to happen between now and then, and how will Google sell the world on the Chrome OS? Looking at the operating systems of today and how they've evolved over the last decade, the hazy picture of Google's strategy becomes clearer. It involves 8 key areas:
1. Developers and Their Apps
Just like Microsoft's Steve Ballmer bellowed at the top of his lungs: Developers! Developers! Developers! The world is awash in Windows applications, so this will be a tremendous hurdle for the Googlemeisters. But think of it from the perspective of a developer: If the applications you write for Google Chrome will also run on Linux, Mac OS X and Windows 7, wouldn't you rather write for Chrome? You'll sell a whole lot more copies of an application if every computer in the world can run it. If Google can make it so that Chrome OS applications truly will run on everything else, this could be a slam dunk.
The early announcements say that Google intends to make its operating system boot up in "a few seconds." That's remarkable, considering today's standards. But that's not good enough, Google. Make it boot up instantly, with the cursor appearing and ready for action in the time it takes to turn on a light bulb. Okay, a fluorescent light bulb. Instant-on would give Chrome a tremendous advantage over Windows or Mac OS X.
Chrome OS needs to be so completely easy to use, with no configuration, no driver problems, nothing that requires an expert to fix, and immediate access to the Web, applications, and anything a user would want to do. That's right, it has to just work. This might not be that hard. With the Chrome OS's Linux underpinnings, many of the drivers necessary to make Chrome OS run are already written.
There can't be any way for viruses, trojans, malware and phishing attacks to affect the Chrome OS. This will be easy at first, because Chrome will occupy such a slender sliver of the marketplace — it won't be worth it for virus-writing scumbags to pay any attention to it. But Chrome needs to be built with security in mind from the ground up, just as Google promised.
5. Keep It Free
Google sees an opening in the netbook market because paying for Microsoft Windows often raises the price of a netbook by 10%. Chrome will be free. Keep it that way, and use applications that are free. It's hard to compete with free. If it's free, and it does everything users need, why should they care what the operating system is? Especially if it's cheaper? Google could make this the beginning of the end of the operating system as we know it. As it stands, sometimes it's hard to tell which operating system you're using, anyway.
6. Get Dell, HP and Acer on Board
This is two-thirds done already, with HP and Acer already stating their intention to get on board with Chrome OS. Dell's plan is still up in the air. If Google can get all three of these guys cranking out notebooks and netbooks with the Chrome OS on board, the first battle of the long war will be won. Helping things along: Dell and HP are no strangers to Linux, both rolling out Ubuntu netbooks — the Dell's Mini 10v and HP Mini 1000 Mi. This might be the easiest item on this list, and could even be a fait accompli.
7. Details, Details, Details
If there's one app Chrome can't run, one thing it can't do that the other fatass OSes can, a user will turn away. For instance, I like to use Microsoft Word because it has one feature I like: the ability to show the word count at the bottom left of its window. If not for that, I'd be perfectly happy with Open Office.
Another example: The only reason I'm not crazy about Ubuntu is because the only way to run Photoshop is by using a kludge. And no, Gimp is no Photoshop. I like to run Firefox because of its plug-in compatibility. I like to run Windows because there are lots of choices of macro programs available for it, such as Key Text. The absence of one particular utility might be enough to turn someone away, so Google, you need to somehow pay attention to the right details without bloating the operating system beyond recognition.
8. Don't Be Late
Google has billions of dollars to develop Chrome OS, predicting it's going to take a year. A year is a long time, especially when nearly unlimited funds are available. Just don't make it two years, Google. The world will pass you by, and the Microsoft juggernaut will figure out how to do this by then. Sure, Microsoft's interpretation of the lightweight, Web-based OS will be bloated, it'll have too many features, and it will be relatively expensive. But it will be ready, and your OS will be toast. It makes us wonder, why didn't Google hatch this OS idea two years ago when Vista criticism was at its height?