What Google Can Learn from Microsoft About Operating Systems

NEWS ANALYSIS: On July 8, the world learned that Google would challenge Microsoft in the operating system market with its Google Chrome OS, which is based on open-source code and is geared toward netbooks or mini-notebooks. Microsoft has been in the operating system game for a while and eWEEK Labs analyst Jeff Cogswell look at what Google can learn from Microsoft as it expands its business.

We just learned that Google has decided to enter the operating system business. Microsoft, as of this writing, has not commented. I can only wonder, however, what thoughts are going through the heads of the people at Microsoft. (I imagine there's a certain amount of laughter going on.)

In the software business, one problem that we run into again and again is that of a company trying to branch out and do something they're not in the business of doing. I see this often in the software world, where a company that is not in the software business decides to home-brew their own software. I used to work for a company that provided software to the telecom industry. The big telecom companies (you know their names) would hire us to create their software. The telecom companies were certainly capable of pumping money into one of their own groups to build the software. But the reason they didn't is they weren't in the software business; they were in the telecom business.

A close relative of mine works in health care, and a company she worked for decided to have their IT people build their own patient management software. It was a disaster. The person-hired to manage the network-who was single-handedly doing about 90 percent of the coding, was in over his head, and the management knew nothing about how to manage a software project. (The managers knew health care. That's what their business was-not software.)

Google knows search. And they've branched into other areas related to the Web, such as online office software. But do they know the OS market? Are they planning on hiring people from Microsoft, Red Hat and others who are heavily experienced in the OS market to oversee the operation?

The OS business is highly competitive. Microsoft has gone to great lengths to get Windows on computers across the planet, and they have huge agreements already in place with the PC manufacturers. Will the hardware manufacturers be willing to just dump Windows or Linux and go with Google's OS? The manufacturers will want a solid business model in place before attempting such a switch. The last thing they want to do is gamble and distribute a huge volume of PCs only to find the people walking into the stores going right to the Windows machines. Talk about crash and burn.

Besides, people don't want to change. A new OS might be cool and great, but people already know their current OS and are resistant to change. Where's my tried-and-true Microsoft Word? There's also going to be a learning curve. Google might think otherwise because the OS is clearly going to be simple, with the browser being its main GUI. But there's actually a very real concern here: People know the taskbar in Windows and the start menu and the icons on the desktop and how to get to the programs they need. Can they quickly and easily make the change? Linus Torvalds has chastised us all for assuming our users are dumb. But while his concerns are certainly valid, there is a line there. Users who are forced to use a computer but aren't "computer people" per se aren't going to easily just pick up something brand new and switch over night (like switching from Windwos to Linux, Mr. Torvalds?).