Google Shunning of Windows Paves the Way for Chrome OS

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-06-01

Google is allegedly forbidding some of its more than 20,000 employees to use computers running Microsoft Windows due to concerns about the operating system's security.

The Financial Times cited Google employees who said Google began seriously pushing its workers to Apple Macs or machines running Linux in January after the Chinese cyber-attack on some Gmail accounts.

A Google spokesperson told eWEEK June 1 that the company does not comment about specific operational matters, but said, "We're always working to improve the efficiency of our business."

Google employees may believe or were instructed to claim that security issues are the reason behind this move. This is credible because Windows machines have a track record of playing host to flaws and vulnerabilities and have proven a fertile breeding ground for viruses.

Or, rather, Windows has been through several versions and upgrades, so hackers have picked apart Windows the most, given the operating system's ubiquity. Windows sits on about 91 percent of the world's computers, according to Net Applications.

But another possibility is that Google is greasing the wheels for its forthcoming Chrome Operating System, the lightweight OS designed specifically to run Web applications through Google's Chrome browser on netbooks and possibly tablet computers.

Google is planning to launch a Chrome Web Store to sell Web applications for Chrome browser and Chrome OS machines.

Industry analyst Rob Enderle said the coming of Chrome OS is likely the primary driver for Google's phasing out of Windows, comparing it to the way Sun Microsystems wanted its employees on Sun Ray 1 and Apple wants employees on the Mac OS.

"I would anticipate Google eliminating Mac next and arguing something like 'freedom' as the reason as they prepare to convert over to the Chrome OS," Enderle said.

eWEEK's own experience with Google employees is that a lot of them use Mac computers, accessing Windows content with Parallels virtualization software. Google co-founder Sergey Brin lamented his company's delay in putting out a version of the Chrome browser for the Mac.  

IDC analyst Al Hilwa said the growing competition between Google and Microsoft is likely behind the move away from Windows. Indeed, Google has been busy trying to lure users from Microsoft Office to Google Apps.

"I have to wonder how much of this is due to competitive drivers versus genuine desire to secure Google. After all, Google has operating systems, browsers, tools and productivity software that is head-to-head competitive with Microsoft and so this may make sense for them. For example, unless it is for software-testing purposes, you are not likely going to find too many Macs around Microsoft.

"On the other hand, there is such a thing as security through obscurity, and it can be quite effective in certain settings. If I wanted to have the least attractive stack for virus and malware attacks, I would use the most obscure stack I can find, potentially including custom-developed components."

Considering that it's not yet offered commercially on computers, Chrome OS is as obscure as it gets, lending credence to Hilwa's argument.

However, Hilwa added, this strategy does not always work with precision-targeted attacks, as the attackers would invest what it takes to target an environment.

"More often, software that is less popularly deployed may in some cases harbor basic vulnerabilities that would have been discovered with broader field testing and deployment. It is a judgment call," he said.

In any event, it's a safe bet that many Googlers are already using Chrome OS and we just don't know it yet. Exactly how many Chrome OS users there are remains a mystery known only to Google.

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