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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

One Operating System to Rule Them All?

Google is moving forward with its plans to develop an operating system:

Google Plans a PC Operating System, Helft and Vance, NY Times: In a direct challenge to Microsoft, Google announced ... it is developing an operating system for PCs that is tied to its Chrome Web browser.

The software, called the Google Chrome Operating System, is initially intended for use in the tiny, low-cost portable computers known as netbooks... Google said it believed the software would also be able to power full-fledged PCs.

The move is likely to sharpen the already intense competition between Google and Microsoft... “Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS,” said Sundar Pichai ... and Linus Upson ... in a post on a company blog. “We’re designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the Web in a few seconds.”

Mr. Pichai and Mr. Upson said that the software would be released online later this year under an open-source license... Netbooks running the software will go on sale in the second half of 2010.

The company likely saw netbooks as a unique opportunity to challenge Microsoft, said Larry Augustin, a prominent Silicon Valley investor...

“Market changes happen at points of discontinuity,” Mr. Augustin said. “And that’s what you have with netbooks and a market that has moved to mobile devices.” ...

Google’s plans for the new operating system fit its Internet-centric vision of computing. Google believes that software delivered over the Web will play an increasingly central role, replacing software programs that run on the desktop. In that world, applications run directly inside an Internet browser, rather than atop an operating system, the standard software that controls most of the operations of a PC.

That vision challenges not only Microsoft’s lucrative Windows business but also its applications business, which is largely built on selling software than runs on PCs. ... Google said Tuesday night that it still had work to do to develop a full-fledged operating system. ... [Here's Google's announcement.]

I resisted moving from DOS to Windows, and then got stuck on Windows once I did move, so I'm probably not the best judge of whether the model Google is using to challenge Microsoft will be successful, and perhaps both models can survive by serving different needs. However, I've also spent time on mainframe batch and time-share systems where you interact with the mainframe computer through a terminal (screen and keyboard), and Google's vision reminds me of an internet wide version of that system (if I understand it correctly, and I may not). If I want to do simulations of a theoretical model, will it be like graduate school where I had to work very late at night when the system had enough free resources to accommodate my requests without being so slow as to be nearly unusable? PCs freed me from that constraint (but not the late night work habit). It was hard to work at home then as well. It was possible to connect through a phone, but it was very slow, and this was also something PCs changed. You didn't have to be at school to do computer work. If we go to the Google model, will the internet be available broadly and reliably enough so that there won't be frustrating periods when lack of an internet connection means you can't get things done unless you do the equivalent of "going to school where there's a terminal"? And I also like having data backed up locally on my own disks or other media rather than trusting a centralized system to keep it safe for me, and with sensitive data it feels much more secure that way. I suppose this isn't a problem for people who use their computers mainly to browse the internet or send email, But if you use your PC for tasks that require lots of computing power or use sensitive data, I think you have reason to wonder if some of the speed, flexibility, and security PCs give you might be compromised with this system. For that reason, I wonder if Google's model will be able to capture some segments of the market, e.g. those that desire lots of computing power be available nearly on demand. But as I said, if people had listened to me, we'd probably still be using DOS.

    Posted by on Wednesday, July 8, 2009 at 02:50 AM in Economics, Technology | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (47)


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