A Windows-free Google? Not yet

Google may blame Windows for security breaches in China, but it still can't make do without the platform

Attempting to kill three birds with one stone, Google has managed to blame Microsoft for major security mishaps, to imply it can get by without Windows, and to get in a plug for its own forthcoming Windows rival Chrome operating system.

Citing several anonymous Google employees, The Financial Times on Monday reported that Google started moving its internal users away from Windows back in January, responding to the high-profile hacking attacks of the company's China operations. Implying that Microsoft's desktop operating system was to blame for the incident, the employees told The Financial Times that Google has pulled the plug on the internal use of Windows in favor of Mac OS and non-specific flavors of Linux. Ultimately, one of the employees said, everyone will ideally be using Google's future rival to Windows, Chrome OS.

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Before chalking this up as a major victory for non-Windows platforms everywhere, it's important to note that Google actually has not dropped Windows outright, despite quotes in the report and echoed headlines in the blogosphere such as "We are not doing any more Windows." Rather, it's a "semi-official policy," according to the report, and there are exceptions: Some new hires are allowed to have Windows installed on their laptops, for example (though not desktops, for some reason). Additionally, with permission from "quite senior levels," existing employees may also keep Windows on their existing machines.

So under what circumstances, pray tell, would senior officials at Google make exceptions and permit such an insecure platform on employee machines? Presumably for those not-uncommon instances where a business-critical application or developer tool or the like isn't available for any platform other than Windows.

Thus far, I'm unimpressed by the news. Were Google to truly announce and demonstrate that it no longer runs Windows anywhere for the sake of security -- and/or that it was dining entirely on its own dog food -- I'd be impressed. What other major worldwide corporation could make that claim? (OK, perhaps Apple.)

The reality, however, is that Google is in the same situation as every other major company out there: Running Windows is, for all intents and purposes, a business necessity, so companies continue to embrace the platform -- despite its reputation for being relatively insecure.

I'd be remiss not to point out that in this stealthy announcement Google has managed to take a swipe at the Microsoft Achilles' heel that is security, implying that it feels safer with any other platform out there, its own most of all. The gamble here is Google is already a target for hackers, and if Chrome OS turns out to be a hit, it will become a target as well. If Google and Chrome do, in fact, gain prominence and market share to rival Microsoft, will the company be able to hold its own? Or down the road will anonymous employees whisper about how their company is moving away from Google offerings for security reasons?

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