Whom does the Google Chrome OS really threaten?

Microsoft, Apple, and Linux may be reacting to Google's new Chrome operating system, but the real targets are you and your privacy

Unless you've been stranded on a desert island, you're aware that Google recently announced its new Chrome OS. Coverage of this announcement has drowned out far more important news across the Web. It is a big proclamation from Google and definitely worthy of coverage. But instead of discussing why this will kill Microsoft, why Steve Jobs thinks we should all take a deep breath, or how this is the most important announcement in the history of technology, I'm asking why.

Why did Google even develop a cloud OS? I use and love tons of Google services. I welcome any new technology that makes my job easier or grants me some previously unavailable ability.  But a cloud OS based on a browser that has between 0.35 and 2.2 percent of the market? Have they lost their minds?

[ Find out what InfoWorld contributors Randall Kennedy, Neil McAllister, and Savio Rodrigues think of Google's newly announced OS ]

Let's stay grounded. First, Chrome OS is not a viable threat to Microsoft. If you only consider the money Microsoft has banked and the money owed the company, as well as stopped Redmond from collecting any more money from customers at midnight tonight, it would still have enough funding to remain dominant in its primary space for years to come, all while continuing to launch competitive offerings like Bing.

As far as Apple goes, until Chrome OS lets you download applications and music to your iPhone, I'm not sure Cupertino is going to pay attention. Apple has a sizable (and growing), loyal fan base that has seen it through far greater threats than a cloud OS. A similar statement could be made about the Linux community (sans the iPhone reference, of course), though this will likely have a different effect on penguin fans. They've already fired up the blog machine.

Everyone's ranting about the threat, or lack thereof, to Microsoft, Apple, and Linux, but few are paying attention to who this really threatens: you.

For those of you who've considered how Google's hosted applications threaten your privacy, what if they had access to the sum of your computing power and all your data? What if your actual operating system were hosted in a datacenter somewhere that you have no control or access to? Google wants to own all your data.

The company that has given us sneak peeks at its data collection and mining capabilities wants to control everything. Do we even need a cloud OS in the first place? Is it a good idea to add so much complexity to something we've all become so dependent upon? For those of you who don't agree, see my previous post on how cloud computing doesn't eliminate complexity.

My advice to Google is to finish the first OS project it started before taking on something this grand and potentially nefarious. I'm intrigued by certain limited applications for a cloud OS, chiefly travel security, but I don't think anyone has given enough thought to the repercussions. Any other Google fans out there like me that think this is a bad idea? What would we be saying right now if Microsoft or Apple had just announced Chrome OS?

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