Google spent some time on Dec. 7 talking about Chrome OS, the company’s Web-based operating system that’s designed to provide users with a fully online experience from their computer. Although there are still several question marks about the platform and the products it will run on, the details that Google provided help to outline how the company views the future lives of consumers.
In the minds of Google executives, the future will be one where consumers (and potentially enterprise customers) spend their entire computing lives on the Internet. They will work on the Web, they will save data to the Web, and they will communicate on the Web. The idea of offline computing will be a thing of the past.
Of course, whether or not that will happen is up for debate. Google has a long way to go to drastically change how people use computers. But based on what is known about Chrome OS so far and considering Google’s plans for the future, it might not be long before the company’s Web-based operating system becomes a real and serious threat to Microsoft and its Windows platform.
Chrome OS isn’t a threat now. But give it some time and it just might become one.
1. It’s a long-term game
As mentioned, Chrome OS isn’t an immediate threat to Microsoft’s bottom line. It will need to be updated, improved and cultivated for years before it can deliver the kind of experience that Windows offers. But that doesn’t mean that it will never happen. Google fully understands that the OS market isn’t going anywhere for now. If it can create a better proposition for users over the long term than Microsoft can with Windows, the software giant will be in trouble.
2. Microsoft doesn’t have a competitor
Microsoft is highly regarded for what it has accomplished in the desktop software space for good reason. The company has brought personal computing to millions around the globe, and continues to profit heavily off of its many software platforms. But that doesn’t mean that it will enjoy similar success on the Web. In fact, Microsoft doesn’t seem poised to launch a proper competitor to Chrome OS anytime soon. But until that happens, the company could find itself locked out of the Web-based OS market.
3. It’s Google
If it were any other company developing a Web-based operating system to compete with Windows, most would agree that Microsoft would do just fine competing against it. But Google created Chrome OS. As the search giant has shown time and again in the past, it knows how to beat Microsoft at its own game. Realizing that, Microsoft should be concerned. It’s entirely possible that, over time, Google’s platform will achieve a level of success that Windows won’t be able to overcome.
4. The Halo Effect concern
For Microsoft, concern over Chrome OS must go beyond that fact that it is an operating system competitor. If Google can attract millions of users around the globe to its Web-based operating system, it will also be able to lock them into its search. Moreover, it limits the necessity of Internet Explorer, creating an equally troubling issue for Microsoft. Simply put, if Chrome OS works out, multiple aspects of Microsoft’s business could be in trouble.
Microsoft Must Innovate to Keep Up
5. Chrome will drive more users to the cloud
Although all of the talk in the Web community right now is about cloud computing, it hasn’t necessarily caught on as heavily among the mainstream as some cloud advocates say. But with Google’s help, widespread adoption of cloud computing could become a reality. That could be troublesome for Microsoft, which, at least for now, is most heavily invested in the cloud with Azure.
6. Consumers are warming to data plans
Since Chrome OS is all about the Internet, having data plans through wireless carriers will become a key part of the average consumer’s life after adopting the new platform. At first glance, that might seem like a problem. But considering mainstream devices, including Apple’s iPad, deliver 3G connectivity built-in, consumers are quickly realizing that paying some extra cash every month to access the Internet through a wireless provider is par for the course nowadays. In other words, that won’t be as big of an issue as some think.
7. Microsoft could find the enterprise space is constricting
At least in the beginning, Chrome OS will likely be designed with consumers in mind. After all, it will be a lightweight operating system that won’t have access to many of the applications that companies rely upon today. But if it’s successful, it’s possible that Google would push Microsoft entirely to the enterprise, keeping that market far more important to the software giant than the fast-growing consumer space. That should help keep Microsoft afloat, but it wouldn’t help its bottom line. If consumer demand changes because of Chrome OS, Microsoft will need to deliver something that can compete-or else.
8. The Web is the future
Although some might disagree, it seems more apparent now than ever that the future of the technology industry will be firmly planted on the Internet. Companies will be relying upon it more and more, and consumers will be turning to it more than they already do to serve most aspects of their lives. As that happens, Google’s Chrome OS platform will be positioned perfectly to capitalize. Meanwhile, Microsoft could be left with a shrinking market for legacy desktop applications.
9. Head starts matter
As mentioned, Google is enjoying a sizable head start as a Web-based operating system. For its part, Microsoft seems to be sticking with the Windows desktop paradigm even as Windows applications spend more time linked to the Internet assuming that it will remain its cash cow for the foreseeable future. But how much longer can that continue before Microsoft responds with the launch of a platform that competes more directly with Chrome OS? Head starts help in the OS space, and Microsoft shouldn’t forget that.
10. The innovation consideration
Perhaps Microsoft’s concerns about Chrome OS should extend beyond simple business factors. Maybe Microsoft should be worried that it’s not innovating as quickly as it should. Google delivers better search, it has the superior mobile platform, and now it’s trying to do something new in the OS market. Microsoft is doing many of the same things it has been doing for years. It looks big and slow. Google has shown that companies have to continue to innovate or they become sluggish behemoths that are in danger of being overtaken by more nimble competitors.