Most of you have seen the news today from Google formally announcing their Chrome Operating System for netbooks using Intel x86 and ARM chips. The is painted as a classic “clash of the titans” between Google and Microsoft, with Google finally directly assaulting Microsoft’s top cash business. (They have already opened the war against Microsoft’s other cash cow, Office, with Google Docs.) While this is a great story, I prefer to frame at as David vs Goliath with the little OS that could, Linux, as the foundation of this announcement, as well as the other operating systems challenging Windows.
What does this announcement mean to the computing industry?
Microsoft’s pricing model is not sustainable in the new world of PC/mobile convergence. MSFT as it existed for the past 20 years does not fit into a world of free carrier-backed netbooks and an internet OS. It’s been reported that Windows 7 Starter will be priced around $45 - $55. In a $200 netbook with already razor thin margins that pricing doesn’t work. And it certainly doesn’t work in the world of free PCs subsidized through carrier subscriptions. When PC makers threaten to use another operating system if they don’t get Windows 7 at a lower price they will not be bluffing; Google Chrome, Moblin, and desktop Linux will be free. Microsoft is not blind to this - but it is questionable if their recent moves towards services will happen soon enough.
The new PC model is built around services: Google ads, online music/video/TV services, subscriptions to applications built and run from the cloud. The old world of high margin operating systems and desktop applications is simply not very relevant to this new world. Native applications unique to an OS are just also not very relevant any more. Even such workhorses as personal finance and digital photo applications have moved to the browser, and those apps are available on any OS. Even Microsoft shut down their Microsoft Money product which was built under the old software sales model. Google wants to capitalize on this trend with Google Chrome OS and its own bevy of online services.
Linux (and consumers) are the true winners. Linux is the basis for not only the new Chrome OS but also the other challengers to Microsoft’s desktop monopoly such as Moblin, Nokia’s Maemo, Palm Pre, many versions of desktop Linux such as Ubuntu or Suse, Android and more. (It’s also the basis of all of Google’s application services as well as every major cloud offering.) Linux is the foundation for this new wave of computing because it is available on more architectures and supports more devices than any other OS. (By using the Linux kernel Google Chrome gains the advantage of all of the hardware drivers.) Linux also gives PC makers and mobile carriers the flexibility to use it without onerous pricing and branding restrictions. The more companies and manufacturers base their products on Linux, the stronger Linux becomes. Say goodbye to monopoly pricing.
There are more questions raised by this announcement than answers, but I feel the three points above are clearly strengthened by this news. We look forward to seeing Google collaborate closely with the Linux community and industry to enhance Linux as the foundation for this new computing model.