Will Google Chrome OS be the undoing of Windows? For the past two decades, the biggest threat to Microsoft has been that someone would create a new consumer operating system, popularize it, and then grow the new OS to challenge Windows on all fronts.
That is what I told Microsoft execs on numerous occasions over many years. I encouraged them to build a modern operating system that could eventually replace Windows. Instead, they built Windows 2000, XP, and Vista. Of the three, I actually liked Windows 2000 the best.
If Microsoft had taken my advice and started fresh, they might not have Google kicking them around today.
Apple understood when its OS reached a dead end, and responded masterfully with Mac OS X. Microsoft continues behaving as though the Windows highway is endless.
Windows customers deserved a totally new replacement OS a decade ago. Fearing market confusion that would create a competitive opening, Microsoft went ahead and confused the market anyway. They just didn't do it with a great, all-new OS. We got more Windows, built atop Windows, built atop, well, DOS.
Google's announcement of its Chrome desktop OS should come as no surprise, particularly in Redmond. There have been signs pointing in this direction for several years. What Google lacked was a hardware platform where Microsoft was at some sort of a disadvantage.
Android, primarily for smartphones, was the first salvo in the battle, launched against Windows Mobile. Chrome OS will use Microsoft's need to (now) almost give netbook operating systems away to defend share, while still charging full price for the same OS running on a laptop, as a wedge.
I have changed my thinking a bit and no longer believe Google will have to challenge Windows across the entire computing marketplace to succeed. Google is betting on a new, web-driven, connected computing model that plays to its strengths and is, essentially, is a place that Microsoft isn't. At least not right now.
If Google can find success on netbooks and other consumer/personal devices, I think the business desktop/laptop market may, over time, take care of itself and head in Google's direction. By then, of course, it is likely to be Microsoft's direction, too.
My hope is that MS has been preparing for this day and already has a response well into the coding stage. It would be great if Microsoft could release a Chrome competitor before Google actually ships. If I were Steve Ballmer, I would be calling general quarters and doing whatever it takes to match Google blow-for-blow.
The worst thing Microsoft could do is pooh-pooh Chrome OS as though it doesn’t matter. That, to me, would be surest sign that Redmond was caught flat-footed and vulnerable.
While I am more a fan of Microsoft than Google (I know, it's an odd and lonely place to be), I am thrilled that Google's has taken the plunge. All of a sudden, PC operating systems are getting interesting again.
We may be about to see a lot of progress happening in a fairly short time. That will be a fun, if sometimes bumpy, ride.