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7/16/2009
01:00 PM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Video: Google Chrome OS Isn't Challenge To Microsoft

The significance of Google's Chrome OS announcement is not the OS itself -- remember, it's not an actual product yet. Rather, it spotlights the shift away from laptops to netbooks and smartphones. Laptops are still corporate tools. But once applications and data are in the cloud, enterprises will ditch the costlier computers and get with true lightweight platforms.

The significance of Google's Chrome OS announcement is not the OS itself -- remember, it's not an actual product yet. Rather, it spotlights the shift away from laptops to netbooks and smartphones. Laptops are still corporate tools. But once applications and data are in the cloud, enterprises will ditch the costlier computers and get with true lightweight platforms.In short, my point is that Google's Chrome OS isn't a challenge to Microsoft -- netbooks are. Or, to mine another vein, Chrome OS isn't a challenge to Microsoft -- Google Apps are. (Is?) This is because the cloud is the last piece of the puzzle which will make lightweight mobile computing a reality.

I explored some of this in my InformationWeek cover story last October, Is The Smartphone Your Next Computer? Assessing that question today, it's more likely that the netbook is your next computer and a smartphone is the one after that.

One wonders, given that fact that netbooks and smartphones do almost all of what one needs, why enterprises persist in outfitting their workforces with expensive to buy and expensive to support laptops. The answer is, it's a legacy thing. Also, no one likes to be first.

While consumers and mobile road warriors love netbooks -- less to lug onto the plane -- companies continue to equip their workers with full-function laptops largely because they run self-hosted apps and host their own data too. This they need the full functionality to run those apps, and they also have (legit) security concerns.

I'd argue, though, that compliance issues aside (a big aside, I admit), mostly those that stick with the laptop paradigm do so because because they believe they need to do so. Once applications and data have moved into the cloud, you'll see netbooks cross over from being cool consumer curiosities into being mainstream platforms for mobile workers.

And why wouldn't enterprises want them, given their lower acquisition costs? As well, there's the carrot of avoiding the "Windows tax"; that is, if netbooks are equipped with Linux (or Chrome OS).

It should be pointed out that most existing netbooks run Windows XP, but I think we'd all agree this is only the case because netbooks are seen as mini-laptops. In the future, when apps are in the cloud, a netbook can really function as a netbook -- a lightweight device whose sole purpose is accessing the 'Net, and the apps residing thereupon. (Your data, too.)

Which is where Chrome OS comes in, with Google attempting to position it as the lightweight OS of choice. However, I think technology monoliths are dead, and when apps are fully in the cloud, there's not going to be, nor will there be a need for, a single OS (lightweight or otherwise) which everybody runs.

Which leads us to Microsoft's own base-covering move, where it's planning to offer a Web-based version of Office 2010, as a back-at-you at Google Apps.

The idea that this is all a game of stalking horses and parries was argued nicely by the pseudonymous Robert X. Cringely in his recent New York Times Op-Ed piece. Hey, I'm cynical, but I'm not that cynical. I get what Cringely's saying, but personally I believe these aren't parries, they're deadly serious strategic positioning moves by Google and Microsoft.

OK, here's a video hosted by Fritz Nelson where we discuss this stuff.

Follow me on Twitter: (@awolfe58)

What's your take? Let me know, by leaving a comment below or e-mailing me directly at alex@alexwolfe.net. Like this blog? Subscribe to its RSS feed: (here)

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More Insights
Google in the Enterprise Survey
Google in the Enterprise Survey
There's no doubt Google has made headway into businesses: Just 28 percent discourage or ban use of its productivity ­products, and 69 percent cite Google Apps' good or excellent ­mobility. But progress could still stall: 59 percent of nonusers ­distrust the security of Google's cloud. Its data privacy is an open question, and 37 percent worry about integration.
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