The Google Chrome OS Killer App Myth

Google recently announced their forthcoming Chrome OS, which is a light-weight operating system designed for netbook computers.  The mainstream and tech media response to this announcement was fascinating, hailing this development as the killer app to bring down the evil Microsoft empire and send the snobbish Apple kingdom on the run.  Except for one small detail.

It won’t happen.

There’s a ten-year cycle with emerging technology.  By the time a technology is widely recognized by the public—not the media pundits—to claim the “killer app” title (the popular application that everyone wants to use), the technology been around for at least ten years or longer.  The two most notable examples are spreadsheets and the World Wide Web (what everyone generally refers to as the Internet).  If the Google Chrome OS does become a significant threat to either Microsoft and/or Apple, that will happen in the next ten years.

However, there are significant problems with Google’s strategy.

The Chrome OS is initially aimed at netbook computers, a small but growing segment of inexpensive laptops.  This segment has been dominated by Linux from the beginning, with some vendors offering Windows XP as an option.  What the vendors are finding out with returned Linux netbooks is that people don’t want to learn a new OS.  They are conditioned to use Windows, they expect the OS to behave like Windows, they want the same application that they find on Windows.  That’s a significant hurdle for Google to overcome.  Especially when Microsoft’s newest OS, Windows 7, coming out this year, is designed to work exceptionally well on netbook computers at a price point that vendors can afford.  That could eliminate the need for alternative OSes.  If the Google Chrome OS can’t succeed with netbooks, it won’t succeed with desktops to compete against Microsoft.

We still don’t know what the ecology is for this new OS that will attract programmers to write applications to attract users to use the OS.  Since this OS is supposed to be open source software, programmers will use available open source tools and Google will provide the necessary documentation to make programming applications possible.  But what about applications?  Neither Microsoft nor Apple will be incline to offer their flagship products (i.e., Office and iTunes, respectively) to the new OS.  If Google relies on the open source applications that typically runs on Linux, and users are still resistant to learning non-Windows applications, the OS will become another niche OS used by a small group of techie users.

New York Times editorial praises Google for taking on Microsoft in the OS market.  If Google is successful in beating Microsoft, I wouldn’t be surprised if another editorial in ten years demonizes Google as another monopoly that needs to be crushed in the market place and/or in the courts.  America loves the underdog taking on the hated big dog until the underdog becomes the next big dog, and then we’re all rooting for the next underdog to start snarling.  This love/hate relationship gives American businesses a schizophrenic quality at times when not under the influence of Wall Street’s quarterly forecasts.

For more detailed analysis of this situation, read the Fake Steve Jobs blog post on the announcement.  If you’re not familiar with the Fake Steve Jobs, this is a parody blog written by Dan Lyons based on the good boy/bad boy personality of the real Steve Jobs, Apple’s charismatic founder who can be brilliantly tactful and brilliantly tactless, sometimes all at the same time, if he was to write a blog.  This analysis tears apart the entire argument for Google Chrome OS in a colorful—if not completely vulgar—way, especially from the Apple perspective.