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Should Microsoft Be Losing Sleep Over Chrome OS?

By Katherine Noyes
May 19, 2011 5:00 AM PT

So Google's Chromebooks finally made their long-awaited debut last week, complete with interesting leasing options for the business, government and educational markets.

Should Microsoft Be Losing Sleep Over Chrome OS?

As Samsung and Acer put the finishing touches on their devices, the question on many tongues now is how these new machines will fit into the already-competitive mobile computing market.

Over at ZDNet, in fact, Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols went so far as to suggest that Google's new devices are "a Windows killer," and his sentiment has been widely echoed throughout the blogosphere.

It's an extremely compelling idea, to be sure, and one that warrants further examination. Where better to conduct such an analysis than down at the Linux blogosphere's Broken Windows Lounge? Linux Girl settled onto her usual bar stool and warmed up her Quick Quotes Quill in anticipation.

'It's Going to Go the Way of the iPhone'

"Microsoft only needs fear Chrome OS insofar as that it will eventually wind up being merged with Android around the same time that there's no good reason not to do so," Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza began.

Android, meanwhile, "should be scary as heck to them, as it really has the potential to be picked up by the masses," Espinoza opined.

"I think it's fairly clear that there's compelling reasons not to do everything in a web browser, so while Chrome OS will fit the needs of only a subset of users, it's going to go the way of the iPhone soon enough," he concluded. "HTML apps weren't enough for Apple's users and they're not enough for Google's, either."

'I Prefer Having Apps Locally Installed'

Similarly, "I'm taking a wait and see approach to chrome since I prefer having apps locally installed," consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack agreed. "I'm still not sold on the 'all apps will move to the cloud' thing, since in countries like Spain, the telephone company seems to take the approach of, 'if you have internet access most of the time, that's good enough.'

"There is nothing like watching a whole office full of web devs come to a halt because the internet access drops dead," Mack explained. "Just imagine if finance and administration were similarly bound. And what of traveling underground or on a plane?"

The reality is that "we're still years away from being in a place where we can have reliable internet in enough places to even begin to consider moving off of locally installed apps," Mack concluded.

'The Sword of Damocles'

It's actually broadband caps that are "the sword of Damocles that is about to fall on the head of Chrome OS," Slashdot blogger hairyfeet opined. "For an OS to be in the cloud it'll have to have loads of bandwidth, and this is at a time that ISPs are cracking down and shutting off the very pipes Chrome OS needs to survive."

Some two-thirds of Americans now face broadband caps, hairyfeet asserted. "At an average of (US)$1.50 a Gb if you go over, it won't take but one bill from their ISP to kill Chrome OS dead."

Of course, if Google sold its Chromebooks for $150 or less, "I'll buy one," hairyfeet was quick to point out. "Wouldn't you just LOVE a sub-$150 Linux netbook that say ran LXDE or XFCE and got like 10 hours of battery life? Of course you would! Me too."

A 'Doorway' to Desktop Markets?

In fact, "I wonder if Chrome OS might be the doorway through which Linux will enter a number of desktop markets," mused Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project.

"The question is where this will be marketed, and to whom," he added. "This is a tough set of interconnected markets, and it will be interesting to see how Google fares."

Then again, "$28 a month for a laptop that can't run most PC software?" protested Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site. "That's $1,008 over the 3-year life of the contract.

"Contrast that with $199 to $499 for a laptop that will run pretty much everything, and that you can sell for a few bucks after 3 years, and it's clear that the Chromebook isn't such a great deal after all," Hudson opined. "Not to mention that the 100mb/month data plan will be eaten alive by anyone using YouTube or any other video applications."

'How Is Google Lock-In Any Better?'

Users who "just want a laptop to run a browser can spend $200 every year on a new cheap netbook and connect to their wifi network, and just give it away or throw it out the next year, and still come out ahead," she pointed out.

"Contrast this with the first chromebooks being offered, starting at $429 for the wifi-only model," Hudson added. "Two gigs of ram, 16 gigs of storage; people will either just buy a 'real' netbook or laptop with much better specs for the same or less, or spend a few bucks more for an iPad."

For those who worry about Windows lock-in, meanwhile, "how is Google lock-in any better?" she pointed out. "At least Windows won't shut down if you don't pay your monthly 'rental' fee, and you're free to wipe it from your laptop and install a full-featured version of linux, not the Chromebook crippleware."

'The Monopoly Will Be Gone'

All in all, "between Android/Linux, the rise of thin clients and Chrome OS, M$ is surrounded by competitive solutions it cannot mess with as it did with the 'PC,'" blogger Robert Pogson said.

Microsoft, in fact, "will eventually become just another IT provider," he predicted. "After this year, the monopoly will be gone."

In the next year or so, "more personal computers running Linux will be shipped than that other OS," Pogson asserted. "I count smart phones, tablets, thin clients, netbooks, notebooks, hybrids and desktops; I count Android as a Linux distro."

'Leasing Works for Business'

Chrome OS, meanwhile, will likely appeal "to businesses who see subscriptions covering hardware and software as a better deal than paying up front, maintaining the stuff and only getting a depreciation rate as a tax deduction," he concluded. "Leasing stuff works for business; consumers will likely want to buy the machines outright."

Either way, Pogson added, "both business and consumers will glory in the freedom of not having to maintain that other OS."

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