Open Source

Google Chrome: What's the point?

TechRepublic member dcolbert questions the relevance and significance of Chrome, the Google-branded desktop OS.

This post was written by TechRepublic member dcolbert.

The recent big news is that Google released an OS. I was under the impression that Google had already released an OS — the Android phone OS — which didn't exactly turn the phone market on its ear as some had suggested it might. In fact, Android phones seem to be trailing behind the Palm Pre in customer excitement, possibly even generating less buzz than the Blackberry Storm.

But evidently, this is different. In announcing Google Chrome OS, Google has effectively — well, effectively made a lot of ambitious claims that have been made countless times before but which no one has really effectively delivered.

In the official Google Blog where they announced Google Chrome OS, it sounds like the OS will really just be yet another lightweight windows manager (I'm going to guess it will run on top of Xfree86), built on top of the Linux kernel that "just works." I thought this product already existed, and it was called Xubuntu. I'm not sure what Google brings to the table with a new Linux distro that countless other Linux distros before it couldn't deliver.

If we're going to claim that the Google brand provides a significant boost on marketability, let's go back and explore the market penetration that Android has enjoyed. When Google branches beyond the search engine, the market perception is one of propeller-headed nerdiness among the general public – and as a potentially dangerous and untrustworthy beast to rival Microsoft among the technical elite. That isn't a great market position to have, and the lack of traction for Android after months of availability illustrates this.

How does Google's entrance into the Linux desktop OS segment change these facts in any way? In my mind, it doesn't. Google seems to be shaping up as the electronic counterpart to Ross Perot or Ralph Nader — in effect, nothing more than a troubling distraction that is most likely to result in the status quo remaining unchanged.

The Chrome browser was an exciting development with excellent execution that obviously shook up all of the leaders in that segment. Firefox, Microsoft, and Apple all made tremendous improvements to their respective browsers in short order in response to the arrival of Chrome. The innovative design, features, and speed of Chrome illustrate the potential of the much-hyped "cloud" and seem to show the clear strategic vision that Google wants to deliver.

However, I haven't seen a lot that illustrates that Google actually had a clear vision beyond the release of Chrome. In fact, the sudden, breakout influence of Facebook in the public consciousness has me questioning if Google is really the best-positioned cloud-based solutions developer.

This is not my original idea, of course, as I've read some other articles that point this out — that Facebook and Google are the two primary contenders for current market domination of the cloud. When you hear and read the arguments, Facebook, oddly enough, has the clear advantage.

Facebook centralizes everything. My tweets go to Facebook. When I read an article that I want to share, I share it on my Facebook wall. I don't post images to Shutterfly, Photobucket, Flickr, or other services anymore, Facebook takes it all, including video, without any of the hassles, and it is instantly available to all of the people I want to share it with, without making them go through annoying registration processes. Facebook is unifying the cloud. It's the portal through which all cloud services and applications are easily accessed.

In the meantime, Google continues to release products that are in perpetual beta, increasingly seems to be scrambling without a clear plan or vision. To me, the pattern of announcements coming out of Google recently honestly looks almost like panic.

If you remember, in the early 2000s, under Craig Barrett, Intel seemed to lose its direction. Intel bought businesses left-and-right that did not align with its core business and goals. It bought interests as diverse as consumer networking companies, digital toy companies, and Web hosting services.

I believe Intel was in a panic, sensing a market change and wanting to be prepared for it, but it wasn't certain where the next big opportunity would arise. Intel suffered some of the worst performance of its history through this era. I would argue that the actions coming out of Google currently look oddly similar to the haphazard decision-making that Intel made between 2000 and 2004.

I've already seen at least one other article that is questioning the relevance and significance of a Google-branded desktop OS. So, I know I'm not alone here. I'd like to hear back from the rest of you — do you think that yet another Linux distro, this one Google-branded, is a good thing, or do you think that Google may have lost its way?

About Sonja Thompson

Sonja Thompson started at TechRepublic in October 1999. She is a former Senior Editor at TechRepublic.

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