Early on during a question-and-answer session after demonstrating Google's new Chrome browser, a reporter asked if Google sees Chrome as the operating system for Web applications.
The question was simple enough, but the answer promised to be more complex, if only the person who answered it answered it with candor.
To answer "yes" would be to admit that Google is indeed intent on supplanting Microsoft's Windows desktop operating system, the foundation of Redmond's business.
Instead, Google co-founder Sergey Brin directly denied Chrome was the Web OS for Web apps, as I recount in my eWEEK piece from yesterday:
"I think it is a very basic, fast engine [for running] Web apps and I think we'll see more and more Web apps of greater sophistication, all the kinds of things that today are pretty challenging to do on the Web because of browser performance, whether it's image manipulation or even video editing. We think that with Chrome, [apps] will be able to bridge that divide and you're going to be able to do more and more online."Yet in later questions about why Chrome was created, Brin basically admitted Google wanted to address the shift to using software from within a Web browser rather than as downloaded, on-premise applications running on Microsoft Windows or some other operating system.
"I think operating systems are kind of an old way to think of the world," Brin said. "They have become kind of bulky, they have to do lots and lots of different [legacy] things. We want a lightweight, fast engine for running applications."
Clearly, this is a dart at Microsoft's direction and indicates that Chrome as the "lightweight, fast engine," that requires only 7 megabytes to download, is Google's iteration of the Web operating system.
That said, neither Brin nor his partner and Google co-founder Larry Page are blind to Microsoft's might at the browser level. "We're competing with a product that's given away by default on almost every computer," Page noted.
But Page isn't willing to say how Chrome will be leveraged specifically to nibble away, let alone gobble, Microsoft's IE share:
"So we have a really great product and I think people will enjoy using it. I think it will be well worth downloading and it's very important to us given that everything we do is running on the Web platform."
That Web platform is also known as the cloud, and author/celebrated tech blogger Nicholas Carr sees Chrome as the window into that. Carr published a great, high-level blog post yesterday in which he paints Chrome as the medium for SAAS apps:
"[Google] knows that its future, both as a business and as an idea (and Google's always been both), hinges on the continued rapid expansion of the usefulness of the Internet, which in turn hinges on the continued rapid expansion of the capabilities of Web apps, which in turn hinges on rapid improvements in the workings of Web browsers."
Carr goes on to explain that while Google wouldn't mind competing in a browser war with Microsoft or Mozilla, the real goal is to create a platform best suited for running Web apps, including Google Apps and Google Search.
Of course, Page and Brin are honest when they say more searches = more search ad dollars for Google, but if Chrome + Google Apps also proves to be a killer combination, look for Google to chomp more Office and SharePoint market share, two core apps running on Microsoft Windows.
Given enough time and proper support, Chrome could be the lever pull that topples Microsoft Windows.