Will Chrome Breed Copycats? Internet Explorer OS, Anyone?

If the world needs one browser-based operating system, why not three more? With the interest Google's Chrome OS has generated, can operating systems based upon Firefox, Internet Explorer, even Opera, be far behind?

Chrome OS is potentially a major threat to Microsoft. It may also be a sideshow or even a bust, but that isn't a chance Redmond should take. If I were Steve Ballmer, Ray Ozzie, or Stephen Sinofsky, I'd have launched the Internet Explorer OS project months ago.

The concept behind Chrome OS is a simple one: Drop enough Linux under the browser to allow it to run on minimalist hardware and you have the 2010 equivalent of the old Tandy 100. (I say that as a compliment).

While the idea of a a computer that does nothing besides run a browser gives me the shivers, I know people who say it is all they really need. They look forward to their Chrome OS netbooks and even I would like to have one, if only because of morbid curiosity.

If there really are customers for Chrome OS out there, then Microsoft, for sure, needs to respond. Firefox and Opera could sit this out, but might need to join the fray to avoid being marginalized in the future.

Each browser OS would support its parent's own web-based productivity applications, perhaps with some special features thrown in to make choosing the OS to match the apps a good idea. Firefox would be a spoiler here, perhaps keeping Microsoft and Google from heading in proprietary directions.

If Google can create an Chrome OS in about two years, then Microsoft, Firefox, et al, ought to be able to build on Google's work and have their own "enhanced browsers" arrive on the scene when Chrome OS hardware arrives next fall.

If all browser-based operating systems could run on Google's hardware spec, you could have interchangeable operating systems and environments, perhaps loaded on memory cards, that could be selected at-will by the user.

A hard drive could remain in at least some systems, allowing the user to chose a browser-based OS or something from the hard drive, such as Linux or Windows 7 (but not Starter Edition, OK?). This could be Microsoft's way of offering customers "the best of both worlds" depending on how they wanted to work.

I realize that a hard drive defeats the purpose of the browser OS, but when solid-state drives become less expensive, any OS can be a candidate for near instant-on. Strip down the operating system to match the actual hardware configuration and you can speed things up considerably.

If it is Google's intent to turn cloud-based apps into a semi-proprietary branded environment, as seems to be the case, then Microsoft certainly needs to be there.

Both Google and Firefox have caught Microsoft flat-footed before. The trend of Microsoft being late to the Internet party needs to stop. If only for self-defense, Redmond needs an alternative to Chrome OS to offer its customers.

David Coursey tweets as @techinciter and can be contacted via his Web site.

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