What Would You Do if Google Web Services Stopped Being Free?

Analysis: Google's introduction of its Chrome Operating System is causing a lot of debate in the high-tech sector, with some pundits mulling whether Google has taken its free software model to the edge in its attempt to battle Microsoft. eWEEK asks readers what they would pay for Google's Web services.

Google's introduction of Chrome OS, its Linux-based operating system for netbooks, sparked no shortage of questions by reporters and bloggers. You can easily tick off a list of 20 questions and that wouldn't begin to cover the minutiae and the what-ifs.

Long term: Will Chrome OS be a viable competitor to Microsoft Windows? Offered as an open-source platform, Chrome OS could have a better chance than Ubuntu, Red Hat or other Linux distributions vying to take share from Microsoft; open-source operating systems drive down computer costs.

Near-term: Will Google Chrome OS fork Linux in the same way Google's Android has been accused of forking Java? That remains to be seen.

Ironically, perhaps one of the more surprising questions centered around the suggestion that Google is forking itself, or more to the point, that Chrome OS will chop off any legs Google was hoping its Android Linux-based mobile operating system would grow.

The point was raised in a research note by Yankee Group's Joshua Martin, who said the emergence of Chrome OS could derail Android, which is currently only on two phones in the United States (G1 and the myTouch 3G coming in August) but is expected to appear in netbooks and other consumer devices in the future.

"Google... has divided its own customer base," Martin wrote in a research note. "Now, Chrome OS will be for netbooks, and Android will simply be Google's mobile platform--which is much less exciting. Consumers won't get any additional value from owning multiple Google devices."

The point was further mulled by Saul Hansell of The New York Times, who in a blog post added that Google delights in offering Web services, such as search, Gmail and other Google Apps. But, Hansell asked, is "Google squandering some of what may be the best brand yet created this century by positioning its operating system as cheaper than Windows?"

Differences of opinion on this matter abound. Enderle Group's Rob Enderle believes an operating system should be free because it is a foundation for the applications and services that run on it. However, he acknowledged that the problem with "free" products is that they don't get adequate funding for promotion and demand generation. Enderle told eWEEK:

"As we saw with the other Linux platforms the hardware manufacturers don't promote them either and, in the end, folks don't buy them. The current ecosystem survives on marketing co-op dollars and direct marketing spending from Microsoft and Intel. Granted, up until recently Microsoft's marketing efforts were largely a money hole with little value but that has changed. For Google to succeed here they have to be able to maintain their image and drive demand for their products. Like most young technology, and virtually all open source pure play companies, Google doesn't get marketing and their brand, opportunity and future are all suffering because of this. Someone has to pay for demand generation, and to protect and build brand equity, free right now isn't doing that. "