Google’s Chrome OS: An ice cube's chance in Hell of succeeding

Why the deck is stacked against Google's efforts to dislodge Microsoft Windows with Chrome OS

The cards are on the table. The cat is out of the bag. The twist ending has, well, twisted. Google is finally getting into the PC operating system market ... for real. And not just with some Android port on steroids. Chrome OS will be something new, a platform that stands apart from, and in some cases competes with, the company's nascent mobile device OS.

My take? It has an ice cube's chance in Hell of succeeding.

[ InfoWorld's Neil McAllister sees Chrome OS as the beginning of the true cloud era, not as a traditional desktop OS rival. | InfoWorld's Robert X. Cringely wonders if Chrome OS will be a geeks-only thing. ]

Seriously, creating a brand-new PC operating system is no small task. Even if Google bases Chrome OS on some existing technology -- like the ever-adaptable Linux kernel -- it still needs to address several very real hurdles before it can deliver anything even remotely competitive to Microsoft's ubiquitous Windows.

For example, if the Chrome browser is truly the new OS' only front end, then what about those applications and utilities that have no AJAX-based equivalents? I'm talking about the myriad legacy programs that expect to run atop a traditional OS, with a real windowing environment, file system, and process management/IPC mechanisms. Although the world has come a long way on the road to full "Webification," there are still many miles to go before we get to a point where IT organizations can rip and replace their Windows-based fat client environments in favor of JavaScript, XML, and HTML 5.

Then there is the issue of peripheral plumbing. People want their PCs and devices to work together seamlessly. And that requires a vast ecosystem of third-party device drivers, as well as their supporting development partners. Getting the larger software and hardware developer communities to support your platform is a tall order -- just ask Microsoft, a company that has spent the better part of three decades laying precisely such a hardware foundation so that Windows "just runs" on virtually any combination of PC hardware.

Basing Chrome OS on the Linux kernel woul help to mitigate this last hurdle a bit. However, as the netbook remix fiasco has shown, customers have little tolerance for half-baked device support, even in a task-oriented OS running on a single function device. Linux is still years behind Windows in the seamless hardware compatibility department, so Google has some work ahead if it hopes to slap lipstick on the FOSS pig and call it user-friendly.

Of course, Google has likely thought through these issues already. The folks from Mountain View probably have some superduper master plan to deal with the seemingly insurmountable hurdles that lay before them. It's just that, right now, I can't figure out what that plan is. Barring a heavy dose of pixie dust, you simply can't get there from here.

So I say, "Good luck, Google! You'll need it!"

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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