Should Microsoft Be Losing Sleep Over Chrome OS?

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

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.”


  • I had hoped that ChromeOS would be the bridge to close the digital divide. The price point indicates that there is not a noble cause underlying the Chrome project. This cause is dear to me, and I am disappointed that "do good" was not in the Chrome mantra.

    As far as the threat to MS…

    I believe the cloud needs to evolve into a hybrid of local cloud and Internet Cloud for business. Besides the discussed bandwidth concerns, performance and security could be enhanced keeping some network services local to the network, not local to the machine.

    MS real challenge is to drop their rivalry with Linux and start selling services to Linux computing devices. M$ is its own paranoid worst enemy. MS can buy cloud services the same way they bought applications to build Windows.

    • I agree. The local cloud is called the intranet, and most enterprises already have it, with web based enterprise info systems, data entry systems, webmail, CRM systems etc. This is what is going to make Chrome OS so compelling in the enterprise.

      There are some things Google needs to add to it though – a single sign on for one thing with Google providing a hardware kerberos authentication server to allow authentication on local servers using the user’s Chrome OS password, and which would also pass on tokens to Google’s cloud services when required.

    • Thank you. Very helpful and intelligent. Made my morning coffee. Used cr48, It’s great. But will always have Linux box on the desk. Used and trusted Google for years. Never a problem. OH!!! yea, e-mail was down a couple years ago. OOOps gotta go my Penguin’s chirpin.

  • ‘It’s Going to Go the Way of the iPhone’ Martin Espinoza

    I think it will in terms of desktop share with Windows PCs at 50% of desktops and Chrome OS at 30% of desktops.

    I don’t think Chrome OS will make an impact on either Android, iPhone or iPad. It is a Windows desktop competitor, not a mobile phone or ultraportable, and its main use will be with WiFi broadband rather than 3G. Its main successes will be for home users, large enterprises with server based data systems and applications, schools. libraries, Internet cafes and public access terminals.

    ‘I Prefer Having Apps Locally Installed’ Gerhard Mack

    I’m sure you do, however most people won’t care. All they will see is zero maintenance, seamless automatic data backup and updates, instant on Internet access and great Internet performance including 1080p video playback – Instant Internet in a box – no fuss, no muss.

    Enterprise sysadmins will love the idea of no local apps – it gives them control of everything from the corporate server, and zero maintenance will save them huge sums now spent on desktop maintenance and support.

    ‘The Sword of Damocles’ Slashdot blogger hairyfeet

    I can’t vouch for how backward the US is in terms of broadband support, but in Europe and other parts of the world WiFi connected to a broadband back end is no problem. I suspect that is the case in the US too. The 3G option where provided is intended for emergency use only. Chrome OS’s natural setting is at home or in the office connecting to the Internet through a WiFi router/firewall plugged into a DSL or cable Broadband connection. It would be always able to work because it will cache the log-on credentials if the Internet isn’t available, and it will be able to cache web apps like Google Apps and run offline until connectivity is established. In a home/office environment, it will be able to access local servers on the WiFi network – media servers, office application servers, information servers, print servers, and Windows desktops or virtualised Windows desktops running on servers. In this environment which is Chrome OS’s natural environment, it is no less functional when the Internet goes down than a Windows desktop.

    "That’s $1,008 over the 3-year life of the contract" Barbara Hudson

    I think some basic numeracy skills are lacking here. How does $28 over 3 years add up to $1,008? Why is the hire purchase cost, the cost of anti-virus software and updates, the cost of a Windows update subscription, and the cost to the user of of time spent on program installation, maintenance (driver installs, software updates, defragging the disk etc.) not included?

    ‘How Is Google Lock-In Any Better?’ Barbara Hudson

    I hate to break it to you, but you don’t have to use any Google Apps with Chrome OS. There is a little box at the top of every browser window where you can type any URL you like. If you want you can use Zoho Office or even Microsoft’s Office 365. You obviously are a Windows user used to Microsoft’s lock-in, and simply assume all others behave the same way. Google is promoting the open standards which is not the platform for anyone interested in lock-in.

    ‘The Monopoly Will Be Gone’ Robert Pogson

    I don’t think Microsoft will be gone, but certainly I believe their monopoly will go. Whether Microsoft is capable of competing and surviving without abusing their monopoly to their benefit remains to be seen.

    ‘Leasing Works for Business’ Robert Pogson

    Not just for business, but for schools, libraries, and the public sector. It is a way of saving massive quantities of real money, mainly on desktop support and software.

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