Analyst Questions Business Uptake Of Google Chrome OS

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IDC analyst Al Hilwa said Chrome Operating system will take some hard selling by Google and its partners to get on netbooks

Should Google Chrome Operating System sees the light of day a year from now as the company expects, it will take 10 years before it begins to see serious enterprise adoption, an analyst told eWEEK.

IDC analyst Al Hilwa said Chrome OS, which Google officials released to open source on 19 Nov., will take some hard selling by Google and its partners to get on netbooks, essentially smaller laptops that let users access Web applications. Some of these machines don’t have integrated CD-ROM drives to let users download software locally to the machine.

During a demonstration at the Chrome OS launch to open source, Google Vice President of Product Management Sundar Pichai showed how Chrome OS can boot in seven seconds, a supremely faster load than Microsoft Windows and Apple’s Mac OS X operating systems. Google is able to do this by removing or consolidating the boot processes in Chrome OS, which seems super lightweight.

Moreover, the notion that Google does all of the updating in the cloud for Chrome OS netbook users without giving them the choice may be welcomed by some consumers, but it’s not something that enterprises will easily cotton to.

“[The cloud-based updates] are not going to eliminate problems. You’ll still have occasionally an update that comes in and it will screw up something. Enterprises don’t want to see that kind of thing. I think they’re making some bets on this and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

He also said he was amazed that Google is releasing Chrome OS without the ability to download local apps to the machines it runs on. That is, Chrome OS and its Chrome browser will run only Web apps. Hilwa added:

“You wonder if netbook users are going to be okay with that, and if they will want to store everything in the cloud. Before it’s all over, there’s going to be some offline applications and then there will be some offline usage of data. They’re going to have Flash memory and people will store data locally. There’s almost no way around that.”

For these reasons, Hilwa said Chrome OS will be a consumer phenomenon for the first five years, but it will be 10 years before Chrome OS can conceivably corral 5 percent of the enterprise computing market.

What will happen? Assuming Google Chrome OS gets that far, some netbook makers will show interest in it to put pricing pressure on Microsoft and will dabble in it. “The market is ready to try new things, but it’s going to be a long time before a new OS has serious share and Google has to keep a sustained marketing push on this.”

Gartner analyst Ray Valdes wonders how serious potential hardware partners will be about Chrome OS. Will netbook makers use Chrome OS as a bargaining chip to get better deals on Windows operating system licenses from Microsoft?

Chrome OS is also another validation of Google’s broad strategy to disrupt the computing markets it enters. It’s done it in search, it’s doing it in mobile with Android, and now, in general computing.

It was clear from reporters’ reactions to Google’s pledge to abstain from offering local applications on Chrome OS netbooks; several media members asked Pichai if Google would depart from this stated strategy. Pichai did not waver; only Web apps need apply for Chrome OS.

Indeed, Valdes said Google is trying to redefine the value proposition of netbooks, which have to this point largely been viewed as watered-down versions of laptops — cheaper but not as good.

“The proposition is that it will be a faster, safer, richer way of accessing the Web than a laptop, or a smartphone,” Valdes told eWEEK. “It depends on the execution from not only Google but their hardware partners. If they can do that, netbooks won’t be a temporary, transitional hardware category.”

Valdes has another valid question: Will the emergence of Chrome OS dilute the value proposition of Android, the company’s mobile OS? Or will Android bury Chrome OS, as some suggest.

More broadly, will consumers who already own laptops and smartphones make room for a third computing device? If they do, will they part with their laptop or smartphone?

So many questions, so few answers.

Regardless, Google Chrome OS has a long, hard road ahead of it as it seeks to challenge Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X and other Linux distributions that are finding their way in the still largely Windows computing world.

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