No doubt they're breathing a big sigh of relief at Microsoft right now, after the world has had a first look at the Google Chrome operating system. Chrome represents absolutely no threat to Windows for the foreseeable future, just at a time when Microsoft is vulnerable.
Chrome will be an Internet-only operating system for netbooks that can only run Web-based applications --- it won't even be able to run applications written for Android, Google's operating system for smartphones. In essence, it's not much more than a browser that sits on a piece of hardware, and handles plumbing tasks like printing and connecting to hardware.
That means it will boot fast, and will most likely be very secure as well. But a competitor to Windows? Given that it will only work where there's an Internet connection, and won't be able to run software except Web-based applications, it's no contest at all.
Google admits that Chrome isn't being designed to power someone's primary computer, but rather as a secondary PC. Sundar Pichai, vice president of Product Management at Google, said of it, according to Computerworld:
"There are applications today that aren't available on the Web. We're really focused, as the use case for this device, that most people who buy this device next year, we expect them to have another machine [with a conventional operating system] at home."
That's very good news for Microsoft, because one of the the greatest opportunities for netbook growth isn't as a secondary PC, but rather for those in the developing world who can't afford a more expensive PC. That's very clearly not the market for Chrome. So it's likely that Chrome won't be taking away much market share, if any, from Windows netbooks.
There's reason to expect that Chrome growth may come at the expense of other versions of Linux running on netbooks. Chrome's target audience certainly fits the profile of a Linux user --- someone with multiple PCs who expects their netbook to be connected at all times to the Internet. So people may opt to buy a Chrome netbook rather than one running Ubuntu.
Divide and conquer is a time-tested path to success. Facing a divided Linux market can only help Microsoft, not hurt it, because Ubuntu and Chrome may be fighting over the same turf, leaving the rest to Microsoft. My compatriot Steven J. Vaughn-Nichols points out that Cononical, the maker of Ubuntu, has been doing work for Google in developing Chrome. But that's more a "frenemy" relationship than anything else, because once Chrome launches, Chrome and Ubuntu will be taking dead aim at each other.
This story, "Chrome Unveiled; Microsoft Cheers" was originally published by Computerworld.