Google's Chrome OS is being heralded as the next big thing in the operating system space. Google is saying Chrome OS is the next "logical step" for operating systems. It plans to bring its technology to netbooks by 2010, although Acer and Hewlett-Packard hope to have Chrome OS on their netbooks by the end of 2009.
In either case, some are already saying that with Chrome OS, Google is taking aim at Microsoft. It's going to be the Windows killer, they say. Unless Microsoft responds soon, Chrome OS will take the lead on the Web and Microsoft might not be able to stop it, they claim.
It's a fine hope. And it might be indicative of the kind of rabid sensationalism that follows any major announcement. But an objective look at what's going on in the operating system space reveals a much different story.
Although Chrome OS seems like it has what it takes to take on Windows, the reality is, it doesn't have a shot. It's still an extremely underpowered platform that can't provide the experience required by enterprise users. And, by the looks of things, that kind of functionality won't be coming any time soon.
In the business world, applications are everything. Without them, companies couldn't do business. It's as simple as that. That's the main reason why Chrome OS just doesn't have what it takes to be a contender at any point in the next couple years.
Companies require powerful software. Right now, Windows can appeal to that desire. IT managers can simply install required software on their computers, deploy it across the network and allow employees to perform the duties of their jobs. That means accounting companies can access all their high-powered tax and auditing tools. Design businesses can use Photoshop. And health businesses can access client records and medical databases.
When Chrome OS ships, companies won't have that luxury. It will take many months and years of development before there is a wide range of business applications running on Chrome OS. Enterprises won't have an incentive to move to Chrome until there is an adequate selection of programs that help them run their operations online.
And isn't that the biggest problem companies face? If the software isn't available, company employees can't do their jobs. And to the corporate world, that's unacceptable.
The great unknown
The enterprise is notoriously averse to change. Once a company finds software that it likes or it uses an operating system it deems reliable, chances are, it won't stray. Nowhere is that more evident than in the state of Microsoft's market share in the enterprise over the past decade. It has remained relatively static. It is the dominant force in the corporate world.
What makes anyone think Chrome OS can change that? Sure, Web-based operating systems might be the future, but just how secure will Chrome OS be? Is it capable of running applications that the enterprise requires? Will it provide an experience that will make it a treat to use?
So far, these questions can't be answered. Until the answers are known, there isn't the slightest chance that the enterprise will care.
What about Windows?
Windows also plays into this issue. Chrome OS might be capturing the spotlight with its operating system for netbooks, but Microsoft is offering Windows 7 Starter Edition, designed specifically for netbooks, months before Chrome OS hits the Web. Microsoft has promised big things for its netbook integration.
It's also important to remember that Microsoft is going to the Web too. Its Gazelle browser-based operating system might give Chrome OS a real problem. Microsoft hasn't revealed too many details about the software, but if it can get Office working well in the browser and follow that up with full support for Windows applications, Chrome OS might be a thing of the past.
But that doesn't mean Chrome OS doesn't have a shot. During the next year, there's little doubt that Chrome OS can't compete with Windows. It simply doesn't have the power requirements needed to make it work. But as long as it's a success in the netbook space, Google will undoubtedly start working on improving the platform to make it work well on more powerful computers. At the same time, it will work with developers to bring important applications to the platform. And if it can prove that it provides a secure, reliable experience, it could give Microsoft a tough time.
But that's still far away. Until then, look for Google to be the also-ran in the operating system market.