Kudos to my former InternetNews colleague Andy Patrizio for ferreting out a fascinating new Google rumor we can tease each other with for weeks and months to come.
This conspicuous specter? GOS, or the Google Operating System.
Andy interviewed Net Applications about an anomaly the stat crunchers uncovered at Google, where as much as a third of traffic streaming out of Google's Mountain View headquarters is stripped of the usual identifying information that accompanies such traffic. The other two-thirds of folks are using Linux for the most part. Andy wrote:
"One-third, however, were unrecognized even though Net Applications' sensors can detect all major operating systems including most flavors of Unix and Linux. Even Microsoft's new Windows 7, which is deployed internally at Microsoft headquarters, would show up by its identifier string. But the Google operating systems were specifically blocked."We have never seen an OS stripped off the user agent string before," [Net Applications Executive Vice President Vince] Vizzaccaro told InternetNews.com. "I believe you have to arrange to have that happen, it's not something we've seen before with a proxy server. All I can tell you is there's a good percentage of the people at Google showing up [at Web pages] with their OS hidden.""
So Net Applications is concluding that many Googlers are running a clandestine operating system of undetermined origin. Well, this would just fit the Google MO, wouldn't it? For years, pundits opined about a Google Web browser until Chrome launched to great fanfare Sept. 2 after two years of internal dog-fooding.
Why is it so hard to believe that Google, which sees Microsoft as a bloated software giant from the on-premises old school, wants to create its own OS? It forged Chrome to speed past Internet Explorer, and it is blazingly faster even if only 1 percent of the population uses it compared with Microsoft's 70 percent IE share.
But I have questions. Let's say Google is developing an OS. Google hardly has an on-premises bone in its body, so this OS may only work on the Web, so you don't have to download anything. That would make the Web browser, presumably Chrome, the front door to what, exactly? Some big social network where OpenID reigns as the key, as David Recordon suggests?
In a fine follow-up story, Forbes.com's Elizabeth Woyke quotes Vizzaccaro as saying Chrome, combined with Google's open-source browser extension Gears, could be fashioned into a Web version of Windows. That might explain the understated aura surrounding Gears, ReadWriteWeb's Bernard Lunn pointed out.
Andy quotes Enderle Group's Rob Enderle, who said a Google OS would be an expanded version of the Android OS the company recently released for mobile phones. Google has already said it envisions Android reaching other devices, including TVs.
This makes the most plausible sense: some fatter form of Android with Google Gears functionality thrown into the mix geared to displace Windows.
Fine, so we have the Ferrari, but what highways would it drive? How does it get from Googlers' PCs to ours? Would Google whip up another graphic novel and urge us to download the OS (a la Chrome), or strike the distribution deals that served as the Autobahn to Microsoft's desktop dominance?
The problem with Internet distribution is time. Browser installations are speedy, OS downloads take time. First, will it be possible for lay users to download without conflicting with their current OS? Will users be patient enough to let a big new OS run on their machine?
My Microsoft Watch colleague Joe Wilcox said a GOS could find purchase in the proliferation of netbooks that aren't spoken for by Windows or current Linux flavors. Why not a GOS built on Android then?
What do you think? Is there any "there" there? Or are we, as Vizzaccaro concedes to Forbes, speculating on what is really Google's robots that crawl and grab content from the Web, a holdover from Chrome, or Google employees surfing the Web on Android phones?