10 Reasons Why Chrome OS Is No 'Windows Killer'

Wednesday Jul 8th 2009 by Mike Elgan
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Current facts about actual human behavior and industry trends, as well as the nature of what Google is proposing, don't support the conclusion that Chrome OS will "kill" Windows.

"Google Operating System To Smash Windows," predicts Sky News. "Google Drops A Nuclear Bomb On Microsoft. And It’s Made of Chrome," warns TechCrunch . "DOMINATE: GOOG PLOTS DEATH BLOW TO MSFT!" screams Drudge.

Really? Based on what? Google's blog post?

Here are 10 reasons why Google Chrome OS isn't a Windows-smashing nuclear death blow:

1. People Don't Prefer Online Apps

So you've given up on Microsoft Office, and now use Google Docs full time, right? You've decided to use only online apps, and no desktop apps. No?

It took Google three years to reach 1 percent market share for Google Docs, its office suite. Many of those users -- probably most of them -- also use Microsoft Office or some other desktop operating system.

We can argue all day about whether people should use online apps, but the hard reality is that most people don't.

The choice between both desktop apps and online apps on the one hand, and online apps only on the other, has been offered to all users for years. I don't personally know anybody who has chosen the second option. Do you?

Google's proposition with Google OS is that people commit to using 100% web apps all the time, with no option to use desktop apps. The public has already rejected that proposition.

2. People Don't Prefer Google Chrome

Google says the Google Chrome OS "should just work." But the Chrome browser doesn't "just work." Why should the OS?

Google has about 2% of browser market share. This percentage will rise. But in a direct competition between Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Mozilla's Firefox and Apple's Safari, Google Chrome is the least popular. Although IE is losing share, Firefox and Safari are gaining share, and faster than Chrome.

The screaming headlines are claiming, essentially, that an operating system based on a browser that 98% of users reject will "smash" an operating system that has enjoyed better than 90% share for over 15 years.

They're claiming that Google will be able to do what Apple, several Linux companies and countless startups have failed to do.

This would be more believable if Chrome had 98% browser market share. But it has 2%.

3. 'Network Computers' Tend to Fail

Every time some Silicon Valley giant comes along and proclaims a new era of applications delivered over a network, the tech press laps it up and spits it out as conventional wisdom.

In 1996, Oracle's Larry Ellison announced the "Network Computer" -- essentially a thin client that would "smash" the Windows monopoly, and deliver secure, fast, cheap computing over a network. The claimed benefits of the Network Computer were identical to what Google is claiming for the Chrome OS.

Obviously Ellison was wrong, and all those tech pundits who went along with Ellison's folly were wrong as well.

Since then, a large number of attempts have been made to offer apps over networks, and although some have gained limited traction for specific uses, none has made even a dent in the concept of a personal computer running local apps.

Even the (arguably) hottest app market in the world right now -- the market for iPhone and iPod Touch applications -- is dominated by apps you install locally.

4. Google Has No 'Midas Touch'

One key assumption behind the idea that Chrome OS is a Windows killer is that Google is so good at everything that all they need to do is announce entry into a market and it's as good as theirs.

The truth is that Google fails to dominate most markets it enters. Sure, Google Search rules. And Gmail, Calendar, Earth, Maps and others are very successful as well. But what about Orkut, iGoogle, Reader, Profiles, Notebook, Lively, Writely, Dodgeball and others. These are all areas where Google tried to dominate, and failed. In fact, Google has hundreds of products, and very few of them lead their categories.

The Chrome OS initiative could be fantastic. But in the absence of evidence, there is no reason to assume Chrome OS will succeed just because Google is making it.

5. Chrome OS Won't Excite Top Developers

Google Chrome OS may motivate additional Web developers, but probably won't convince a whole lot of major, high-quality application, game and utility companies to devote enormous resources to the project.

The reason is that Google Chrome OS users will probably be motivated primarily by low price. These aren't users who are most likely to shell out real money for applications. That means the best app developers will keep writing for Windows, Mac OS and even other flavors of Linux. They'll go where the money is.

Next Page: the future -- and Multitouch

6. Chrome OS Depends On the Internet

Yes, Google can cache app sessions and data, and enable a system to function offline. But let's be clear: Chrome OS represents a lot more reliance on the Internet than Windows, Mac OS or other brands of Linux do.

For example, Google seems to imply that instead of drivers, Chrome OS will connect to devices via the Web. Lose Internet connectivity? You can't print!

Michael Jackson died, and the entire Internet nearly ground to a halt. In mid-May, most of Google's own services were completely unavailable for an hour. And even when the Internet and Google servers are functioning normally, the local connection to the Internet can be shut down for a wide variety of reasons.

Total reliance on the Internet is all fun and games until that connection is lost. Then what?

7. Chrome OS Offers Zero Exclusivity

The choice between a desktop PC OS and Chrome OS isn't like the decision between Windows and Mac OS, where each option involves exclusive hardware and application software.

On the one hand, you'll have Google Chrome OS, which runs standard browser applications. On the other, you'll have OSes like Windows and Mac OS that run the whole universe of desktop applications and games -- and also run standard browser applications.

In other words, you're not choosing between a car and a house. You're choosing either both a house AND a car -- or just a car.

8. Chrome OS Is Hobbled Linux

Several companies have spent years building truly great flavors of Linux. In what way will Chrome OS be superior to Ubuntu?

Has Google somehow discovered the missing ingredient, the feature that all those companies have missed all these years? Their claim is that they have: The main difference will be that it won't be able to run desktop apps. That's not a very compelling difference.

9. Chrome OS Will Take Years

Remember when Google's Android was going to "kill" the iPhone? Dozens of phones were supposed to have flooded the market by now, each with wonderful, network-centric features. Fast forward to today, and there are just two phones supporting Android, and the iPhone dominates them both completely.

Google says we should all expect Chrome OS netbooks in the second half of 2010 and sometime later in desktop PCs. If the Android hold-up is repeated, we'll see one Chrome OS netbook by Christmas, and the second one by Christmas 2011.

Meanwhile, Windows, Mac OS and Linux will all be that much more mature and advanced.

10. The Future Is Multi-Touch

Evolution happens, and some of my reasons for why Chrome OS won't automatically kill Windows could change. But by the time they do, both Microsoft and Apple will have changed as well.

The WIMP user interface (for Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointing Devices) is 36 years old now. The next generation of user interfaces will look a lot more like the Apple iPhone, with multi-touch, physics, gestures and 3D. These PCs will require scads of power and serious operating systems. Google may keep up, but the reason for the Chrome OS's existence will be diminished by this new world of computing.

I'm not saying that Google Chrome OS is bad, or that Windows is good. (I'll be accused of that, regardless -- please comment in the section below.)

I'm saying that current facts about actual human behavior, industry trends and history, as well as facts about what Google is actually proposing, don't support the conclusion that Chrome OS will "kill" Windows.

We should all welcome the competition, and wait with anticipation as Google presents its initiative. But any claim that Google OS will succeed is based on nothing.

ALSO SEE: How Google will Fumble Chrome OS

AND: Proudly We Fail: 25 Dead Tech Products

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