Why Google Chrome OS is Overrated

by Krishna on July 11, 2009

Farhad Manjoo of Slate takes down the upcoming Google Chrome OS:

But here’s the crucial sticking point for Chrome: Because it’s based on a Web browser, every app developed for Chrome will also run perfectly on Windows or the Mac. By definition, then, Microsoft and Apple machines will always be able to do more than Chrome machines—they’ll be able to run Web apps and the processor-intensive desktop programs that we’ll still need in our glorious Webby future: movie-editing software and CAD programs, for instance. […]

This is what Google said:

For application developers, the web is the platform. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies. And of course, these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform.

If all the Google Chrome OS apps can run on other operating systems, you would want a Google Chrome-OS machine if

  • You only want/need to use web applications.
  • You are very price-sensitive.

I am not even sure if the latter applies, because presumably you could replicate Google Chrome OS by using a Firefox+Linux installation at the same cost. Why would netbook companies even use Google Chrome? Is Google paying partners to install Google Chrome OS on their netbooks, a reverse OEM licensing situation. Manjoo blasts Google’s business sense:

If 20 percent of the world’s computer users switched from Windows to Chrome, would that help Google’s bottom line? Sure, all those people would now be using Gmail and Google Docs—but they could have been doing that in Windows, too! An MBA might describe the Chrome OS as a wasteful customer acquisition expense; Google would be wiser to use all the cash that it’s pouring into developing the new program for advertising instead. But a gangster would call this move what it really is: The point of Chrome OS—the only point of Chrome OS—is to screw with Microsoft.

In fact, the whole concept of netbooks seems weird to me. Cell phones are becoming so powerful these days that for most tasks done on the go, you don’t need anything else. You can find laptops that are light and thin enough to carry around with you without being a burden. Wireless broadband cards enable you to access the Internet from different systems instead of being tied down to one machine.

Netbooks, by definition, occupy a place between cell phones and laptops. And therefore, they will be squeezed by ever-increasing functionality of the former and ever-increasing price declines of the latter. Secondly, the type of person that needs a netbook is a person who also needs a powerful cell phone and a laptop. So far from being a replacement for anything, a netbook would be an additional device, further reducing its reach.

Now, the share of netbooks in all laptops jumped from 1% to 19% in 2008. But apparently, that seems to include netbooks that are very close to being called laptops if it weren’t for their size. In any case, the type of netbooks that Google Chrome OS would serve is a niche within netbooks where, if I understand correctly, no local application other than Google Chrome would run.

Google, of all Microsoft competitors, has the best chance to supplant Windows with a different operating system. Google Chrome is a fantastic browser — I am using it now as my default browser. Yet, I cannot see this as a real game-changer unlike people like Paul Thurrott. I would think that Android has a much better chance to become big in the long run.


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