Chrome OS: Is Google Just Chasing Microsoft’s Gazelle?

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Whoever came up with the idea first, it’s obvious that we could use some new thinking around the provision of apps and services, says Peter Judge. Why do we need both an OS and a browser?

Last week’s announcement of Google’s Chrome OS got masses of attention – deservedly. Here’s an operating system, coming from Microsoft’s most visible rival, and pitched at precisely the opportune moment – the point of greatest uncertainty in Microsoft’s own operating systems strategy.

But what did Google actually announce? The blog post that started it all, talked of a slimmed down, fast-launching, more secure operating system designed for netbooks. And it is due on netbooks only, at least a year from now, in the second half of 2010.

That would not be a bid deal if it weren’t for the fact that netbooks are the only really healthy sector of the PC market at the moment , and they are currently dominated by Microsoft – albeit at the cost of breathing life back into XP, the operating system it wanted to kill.

Analysts had a field day, and picked apart the pros and cons of the idea.

And news has kept coming: Chrome OS might come sooner, even this year according to reports. At a press conference, Google execs had to make a point that Chrome OS was not going to displace the Android OS (despite the likelihood of Android also appearing on netbooks).

But some commentators are pointing out reasons to stay calm. Jack Schofield says Chrome could be seen as a copy of Microsoft’s Gazelle (more detail in a PDF here), or even of Splashtop, the instant-on OS used by companies like Asus.

In fact, Gazelle is a different approach to the same underlying issue. We’re all spending more time in our browsers. We only tab away from it for a few other tasks and apps. Why not converge the OS and the browser . Google says – why not do away with most of the OS under the browser? And Microsoft says why not beef up the browser?

Whichever wins out, it seems new approaches are going to be very visible on the next generation of netbooks. All of which could makes Windows 7 look a bit retro even before it properly arrives.

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