Microsoft's ace in the hole in its upcoming battle against Google Chrome OS, the search giant's new browser-based operating system, could be a browser-OS hybrid project code-named Gazelle. As more and more applications move into the cloud, the need for a browser-based OS, one that can intelligently interface with a PC while managing Web resources, may become more intensive than ever for both Microsoft and Google as they compete for market share.
The media cycle of past few days has been dominated by word of Microsoft's
apparently imminent demise at the hands of Google Chrome OS, the search-engine
giant's newly announced operating system initially intended for mininotebooks,
known popularly as "netbooks."
predictions of the death of Windows may be premature, Microsoft may already
be in the midst of developing a competitor to Google's stripped-down operating
system, a project code-named Gazelle.
"Google Chrome OS is not a full-frontal assault on Microsoft Windows,
but instead coming at it from one side," Ray Valdes, an analyst with
Gartner, told eWEEK. "Google's usual approach is to narrow the scope and
solve one part of the problem in a deep way. We saw that with Google Maps and
to a lesser extent with Gmail and Chrome browser."
In that spirit, Google with Chrome OS is "picking one low-hanging
fruit," Valdes added. "They already have a browser, they also have an
operating system (their flavor of Linux), and all they need is one relatively
small subsystem (a windowing environment) to complete the picture."
While Chrome OS will initially be a consumer-oriented offering, Valdes
thinks, it will be roughly three to five years before it potentially impacts
In order for Microsoft to compete, Valdes said, the company needs "a
fast, cheap lightweight browser-OS hybrid" like Gazelle.
Operating as a browser-based OS, Gazelle would likely manage access to
devices and system resources, as well as enforce policies. In theory, this
would protect users' devices from malicious plug-ins and other malicious code.
A browser OS makes particular sense within the context of cloud-based
applications, whose growing prevalence and popularity has put pressure on
browsers to juggle power-intensive Web pages while interfacing with the user's
"Yet browsers have never been constructed to be operating
systems," Helen Wang, a senior researcher in the Systems and Networking
group at Microsoft Research, is quoted as saying on the Microsoft Research
Website. "Principals are allowed to coexist within the same process or
protection domain, and resource management is largely non-existent."
Should Gazelle turn out to be a suitable netbook OS, the question is how
quickly Microsoft can produce a commercial version to blunt the market
penetration of the Chrome OS, which Google says will roll out in the second
half of 2010.
Despite predictions on the Google blog that Chrome OS will eventually prove
suitable for high-end desktop systems, creating an operating system for that particular
market segment could prove more problematic, as Google will have to deal with
potentially messier issues such as OEM peripheral vendors.
Microsoft has also demonstrated market dominance in that particular segment,
which it plans to continue with the Oct. 22 rollout of Windows 7, its new
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.