Government // Mobile & Wireless
Commentary
7/9/2009
09:44 PM
Jake Widman
Jake Widman
Commentary
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What Does Google Chrome OS Mean To Mac-using SMBs?

The announcement by Google of its plans to develop a new operating system has pundits and other observers scrambling to predict its effect on the PC market. Is this something Mac-based small and midsize businesses should care about?

The announcement by Google of its plans to develop a new operating system has pundits and other observers scrambling to predict its effect on the PC market. Is this something Mac-based small and midsize businesses should care about?In a post yesterday about the Chrome OS and SMBs, bMighty editor in chief Fredric Paul wrote that he hadn't seen much Mac-oriented analysis yet. That's starting to change. One area of interest is Chrome OS's effect on the relationship between Google and Apple.

Two men sit on the boards of both companies -- Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Genentech CEO Arthur Levinson -- an overlap that has already drawn the scrutiny of the Federal Trade Commission. Section 8 of the Clayton Antitrust Act places several limitations on corporations that have "interlocking directorates," addressing the concern that they could work together to eliminate competition. According to the New York Times, the FTC has been investigating the Apple-Google interlock for several months.

Don't Miss: What Does Google Chrome OS Mean To SMBs?

The two companies already compete in the realms of mobile phone operating systems and Web browsers (and Schmidt reportedly leaves board meetings when the subject is the iPhone). Adding a Google OS to the mix would raise the stakes to a whole new level -- one that Microsoft might take a particular legal interest in. The FTC may decide that the relationship between Google and Apple is too cozy, but I don't expect Chrome OS to have much practical effect on the development of Macs.

Things could get livelier, though, if Time writer Josh Quittner is correct and the Chrome OS is actually a defensive maneuver against the iPhone. Quittner's argument is that the iPhone is "a mobile computing platform that exists parallel to -- but distinctly apart from -- the Google-dominated Web." In this view, Google relies on the Web as currently constituted to continue to command eyeballs, and providing a platform for cheap netbooks and Web tablets is one way to do that.

Cost was also a theme in Fred's analysis of the effect on Macs: he suggested that customers "may be less willing to pay the Apple premium just for the fancy hardware." What both Fred and Quittner overlook, in my opinion, is that Mac users aren't just paying for fancy hardware, they're paying for a fancy OS. Mac OS X reduces SMBs' training and support costs, provides a consistent, easy-to-learn computing environment, and drastically reduces the pain of networking and adding peripherals. It's unlikely Google Chrome OS will offer anything like that kind of performance on desktop or laptop computers for years, if ever.

As for the iPhone: Google already has a smartphone OS -- Android -- and the first phones based on Android didn't exactly take reviewers by storm. Will new devices based on a new OS make a bigger dent in the iPhone's market- and mindshare? Seems doubtful.

The wide-open niche for Chrome OS, in my opinion, is as the basis for a new class of portable Internet appliances.

I can see a new crop of portable Internet appliances based on Google Chrome OS. If, as one writer said, "All the OS has to do is boot the damn computer, get me to a browser as fast as possible and then stay the hell out of the way," then the OS becomes essentially invisible and the device can be sold purely on function, not on what it runs. After all, nobody really knows or cares what OS the Kindle runs.

But "portable Internet appliances," at the moment, isn't a market Apple plays in so far (not counting the iPhone). So while SMBs might be intrigued by new alternatives to netbooks, they're not likely to see anything that'll displace their Macs.

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