Would You Cough Up For Google Web Services?

Open SourceSoftwareWorkspace

Has Google gone as far as it can go with its free software model? The release of its Chrome OS has provoked a lot of discussion summarised here by Clint Boulton

When Google introduced Chrome OS, its Linux-based operating system for netbooks, it sparked a torrent of questions by reporters and bloggers. Tick off a list of 20 questions and that wouldn’t begin to cover the minutiae and the what-ifs proposed.

Ironically, perhaps one of the more surprising questions revolved around the suggestion that Google is forking itself, or more to the point, that Chrome OS will chop off any of the legs that Google was hoping its Android Linux-based mobile operating system would grow.

It remains to be seen whether Google Chrome OS will branch off from Linux in the same way Google’s Android has been accused of forking Java. But the point that Google may be dividing its own customer base was raised in a research note by Yankee Group’s Joshua Martin, who said the emergence of Chrome OS could derail Android, which is currently only on two phones in the United States (G1 and the myTouch 3G coming in August) but is expected to appear in netbooks and other consumer devices in the future.

Customer Base Divided?

“Google… has divided its own customer base,” Martin wrote in a research note. “Now, Chrome OS will be for netbooks, and Android will simply be Google’s mobile platform, which is much less exciting. Consumers won’t get any additional value from owning multiple Google devices.”

The point was further mulled by Saul Hansell of The New York Times, who in a blog post added that Google delights in offering web services, such as search, Gmail and other Google Apps. But, Hansell asked, is “Google squandering some of what may be the best brand yet created this century by positioning its operating system as cheaper than Windows?”

Differences of opinion on this matter abound. Enderle Group’s Rob Enderle believes an operating system should be free because it is a foundation for the applications and services that run on it. However, he acknowledged that the problem with “free” products is that they don’t get adequate funding for promotion and demand generation. Enderle told eWEEK:

“As we saw with the other Linux platforms the hardware manufacturers don’t promote them either and, in the end, folks don’t buy them. The current ecosystem survives on marketing co-op dollars and direct marketing spending from Microsoft and Intel. Granted, up until recently Microsoft’s marketing efforts were largely a money hole with little value but that has changed. For Google to succeed here they have to be able to maintain their image and drive demand for their products. Like most young technology, and virtually all open source pure play companies, Google doesn’t get marketing and their brand, opportunity and future are all suffering because of this. Someone has to pay for demand generation, and to protect and build brand equity, free right now isn’t doing that.”

Enderle pointed to Apple as the model of a company that knows how to displace a dominant vendor (Microsoft Windows) and hold on to a monopoly (iPod). But putting that to one side, the idea of Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page abandoning all manner of free web services to sell consumer devices is anathema.