Practical Analysis: Google Hits Microsoft Where It's Weakest

Consumers forced to live with "business lite" Windows are finding alternatives from Google, Apple, and others. Can Microsoft adapt?

Art Wittmann, Art Wittmann is a freelance journalist

July 16, 2009

4 Min Read

Google's announcement that it's creating a lightweight operating system to contend with Windows, especially on netbooks, kicked off the usual speculation on whether this will be the end of Microsoft's desktop dominance. The safe, not-too-insightful analysis is that Google Chrome OS won't mean much in the near term. In fact, it appears that Google has jumped the gun with its announcement, as my colleagues searching for details from the company have dug up very little.

So let's take Google out of the equation for a second. Before we can figure out who's likely to knock off Microsoft, we need to figure out how Microsoft got where it is. Certainly, its ability to play hardball with OEMs and its other aggressive business practices are part of the equation, but that's not the whole story. To my mind, Microsoft never found a truly comfortable place with consumers. Its operating system and applications are more expensive than consumers have ever wanted to pay, and while they're easy enough to use, from a consumer point of view, they're bloated with features most home users will never use.

For business users, however, the story has been much different. Microsoft has used its operating system dominance to create what's been an elegant and unrivaled marriage of office productivity applications, e-mail, and now collaboration with SharePoint. Google CEO Eric Schmidt has done this dance with Microsoft during his stints at Sun and Novell and knows better than to take on Microsoft at the business user's desktop. The issue has been that while Microsoft never came close to delighting consumers, no one else could figure out how to make a reasonable business out of serving them. So consumers had to live with "business lite" Windows systems that didn't serve their needs, or go to the more expensive systems from Apple, or just settle for an iPhone, which for many is all the computer they need.

The combination of a netbook and Chrome OS is aimed right at consumers. The sub-$500 (possibly sub-$300) price of the combo and a better security profile, faster boot times, smaller memory footprint, and smart integration with online services and 3G/4G wireless appeal to consumers. As that appeal takes shape, we'll see a morphing of what we think of as a netbook. With a better, tighter OS, there's no reason you won't see "gamer quality" netbooks with fast graphics and 17-inch screens popping up for close to $500.

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So while the Chrome OS isn't likely to have a short-term profound impact on business users, consumers are finally getting the attention and the products they deserve. Microsoft understands the stakes--and in an ironic turn of the tables, while Google touts a vaporous OS, Microsoft is delivering Windows seven months early. Let the games begin.

Art Wittmann is director of InformationWeek Analytics. Write to him at [email protected].

To find out more about Art Wittmann, please visit his page.

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About the Author(s)

Art Wittmann

Art Wittmann is a freelance journalist

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