In September of last year I wrote about Google's new Web browser, Chrome, calling it "Google's New Operating System With Built-in Web Browser." Google made it official in a blog post announcing Google Chrome OS for Netbooks. According to Google's blog, Chrome OS will be open source and the code will be released later this year. Chrome OS is not Android. It's a separate project designed as a small, lightweight netbook OS created for people who spend most of their time on the Web.
Perhaps the only thing that should come as a surprise in this announcement is the timing. The Chrome browser was clearly designed to move in this direction. It was only a matter of time. The timing may have been influenced in part by Google Applications coming out of Beta. Given that Google Apps are now GA, maybe it's time that we had an OS to run them?
Assuming Chrome OS is the fast, lightweight, Web-oriented OS that all of us expect from Google, I have to admire the way Google is taking advantage of discontinuities in the computing market to attack Microsoft. With market shifts comes opportunity. Google took advantage of the shift to mobile devices to introduce Android, an OS targeted to that market. Now with the shift continuing away from PCs to netbooks Google is once again prepared with an OS for that market. Meanwhile, Microsoft remains stuck with one OS, Windows.
When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Windows is Microsoft's hammer, and everything looks like a PC to Microsoft. But of course smart phones and netbooks are not PCs. A discontinuity is happening in the computing market, Microsoft is missing it, and Google is there to pick up the pieces.
Today desktop operating system market share is still an important metric in the computing landscape. Will that still be true in 5 years? I don't think so. Mobile devices already dominate the desktop. With increased computing power moving into mobile and Internet computing devices like netbooks, and applications moving to browser-based delivery, no one is going to care about the desktop operating system in 5 years. Desktops will be a fraction of the total computing end-points in use. Microsoft may still dominate desktop OS market share, but it won't matter because Internet-ready small, mobile devices like smart phones and netbooks will dominate the computing landscape and they won't be running Windows.