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Google OS - A Cynical View

Will Google succeed with the new OS in 2010?

If you didn’t hear that Google has announced that in 2010 consumers will have a chance to enjoy new Chrome-based OS, stop reading and do you homework first.

Done? Now we can move on, and let’s do it by the rules – positive things first, then some bile followed by a happy end.

I really like Google. They produce easy to use applications that work great. I use their search engine about a hundred times a day. Their applications make sense.

Nine months ago they released a Web browser called Chrome, and I liked it. Back than I suggested that in a year Chrome will bite off a decent chunk of the Web browser's market. (see  http://yakovfain.javadevelopersjournal.com/i_like_google_chrome.htm).

I was wrong. They’ve bitten a really small piece of the browser’s pie. For lots of companies 3% of any market would be like money from home, but for Google it’s a failure. Now they say that 30M people downloaded this browser. Not too much assuming that there are like 700M computers connected to the internet worldwide. Do you math. I was one of these 30M downloaders. But I don’t use it. Still waiting for some compelling reason to abandon FireFox 3.5.

Now let’s consider a lot more complicated than a Web browser software - the OS. Wall Street commercials often include the following phrase, “Past performance is no guarantee of the future results”. But in case of the Chrome-based OS we haven’t seen even the “past performance” so only a miracle can lead to the promised “future results” a year from now.

Many people are quick to blame Microsoft Windows for anything and everything. Have you ever heard something like “MAC OS is cool. Widows is a piece of junk”?  As a matter of fact, I’m typing this article using MS Word installed on my MacBook Pro. BTW, the MAC OS version of MS Word has a lot of room for improvement, but it’s besides the point here.  
But let’s not blame old and out of style Windows too fast. Keep in mind that every Windows OS had to work on a HUGE variety of hardware produced by a plethora of vendors. Their life was never as easy as Apple’s who created one computer and one OS to this computer. Feel the difference? To the best of my knowledge, Google haven’t created their own computer yet (Google phone doesn’t count), but they are planning to enter a Wild West of netbook PCs.  Will their OS work only on some models? When will the drivers to my Cannon printer and Fujitsu scanner work with Google OS?

What about MS Office for those stubborn millions of corporate users that don’t want to switch to Google’s online word processors and spreadsheets? The business users are pretty comfy with coding their little formulas in MS Excel. It took them YEARS to master these what-if scenarios and total/subtotal functionality in their tiny under-the-table reports they’re proud of.

For a company with 10000 employees saving $45 on each OS license translates into a substantial sum of money.  But why 15+ year old Linux still didn’t make it into a consumer’s market? Agree the first 10 years Linux distributions didn’t have an intuitive GUI. But now there are several flavors of Linux with a decent UI. It’s also free and open source. A handful of geeks enjoy every minute they spend in Linux, but for those Excel users it’s a completely different universe that they don’t care about.

Sure enough, Google will come up with an intuitive UI,  but that little kid will never switch to a Google OS computer if his Street Fighter won’t work there. Will Adobe rush to develop the Google OS version of Photoshop by the end of 2008? I don’t think so.

Speaking of the Google OS open source announcement that is embraced by everyone who see nothing but the word “free” in it…I read it a little differently – Google doesn’t want to commit substantial human resources for this serious undertaking and is betting on kids-enthusiasts who will contribute the new features and patches to the source control repository.

Am I’m painting the picture with unnecessary dark colors?

OK, here’s a couple of positive sprinkles.

1. I do believe that Google will be able to create installable small kernel that will include only the networking and I/O modules absolutely required to quicly start the netbook and connect to the Internet. Google OS will pull the rest of its required modules later, over the wire in the background while the user is still thinking, “Why did I open even the netbook now?” or on as-needed basis. Remember how Baron Munchhausen have used his own bootstrap to pull himself out of a lake by his own hair? If Baron Munchausen could do it, Google can do it too.

2. Google can use their super-duper advertising machine to promote their new toy. To give you a perspective, Microsoft is spending for marketing of their new search engine Bing a sum that, as Ballmer put it is "big enough that I had to gulp when I approved it. "  And Bullmer doesn’t gulp seeing anything less than $1B. 
If Linux had access to such marketing machine, they’d bee in a much better shape now.

Having said all that, I’ll stick to my general approach, “The more the merrier”, and I wholeheartedly wish Google to pull it off if not in 2010 then by 2012 or even by 2015.

Go Google, Go!

More Stories By Yakov Fain

Yakov Fain is a co-founder of two software companies: Farata Systems and SuranceBay. He authored several technical books and lots of articles on software development. Yakov is Java Champion (https://java-champions.java.net). He leads leads Princeton Java Users Group. Two of Yakov's books will go in print this year: "Enterprise Web Development" (O'Reilly) and "Java For Kids" (No Starch Press).

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