Google is set to push its new Chrome operating system into a market that may be more ready for a new OS than it has been for 20 years or so, according to analysts.
Company officials at the Computex electronics exhibition in Taipei yesterday said the Linux-based Chrome OS is now slated to ship later this year.
Analysts note that the Google Chrome OS will arrive as Microsoft's new Windows 7 OS picks up steam, cloud computing continues to heat up and hardware vendors are constantly on the lookout for a solid platform to run competitors to Apple's incredibly popular iPad tablet computer.
"This is a big play for Google and the market is more ready to accept an alternative than it has been since the early 90s," said Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group.
To gain the attention of IT managers, analysts said that Google must ship a solid Chrome OS as soon as it can.
"Google intends to own the operating platform for Internet applications, and Chrome OS is a key element in that strategy," said Hadley Reynolds, an analyst with IDC. "Any time-to-market advantage they can achieve will be good. The risk is that the system comes out and doesn't work smoothly, or key pieces, like full-range hardware support, are partially missing. The perpetual beta strategy Google has used with many of its experiments is not going to be acceptable in OS software."
Sundar Pichai, Google's vice president of product management, disclosed during a speech at Computex that Chrome will ship in the fourth quarter, and that the firm will initially target laptops.
Enderle said Google must release Chrome OS before too many enterprises move to Windows 7.
"Windows XP provides a better near-term migration opportunity. Folks won't migrate from Windows 7," said Enderle. "[Google] needs to get Chrome OS to market quickly or they will have a lot of additional problems to correct and an increasingly Windows 7-oriented market that will have them locked out. Even Apple is likely to have a major [user interface] upgrade coming, and if Apple executes before Google does, Google will look late and out-of-date."
Stuart Williams, an analyst with Technology Business Research, agreed that Google needs to move its operating system before the company finds itself looking late to the party.
"The pace of competition for cloud computing and mobile computing is increasing as the large systems vendors begin to make their plays in these arenas," he added. "Apple, of course, is already setting a blistering pace in the adoption of its cloud-enabled iPad. And HP, Lenovo, Acer and other hardware vendors are looking for a hardened and cloud-enabled OS that is already connected out-of-the-box to Web applications like Gmail, Google Apps and YouTube."
Williams pointed out that competing hardware vendors want to offer strong alternatives to Apple's iPad, and Chrome's built-in HTML 5 support and media player could help.
Google is also in a position to take advantage of the demand for cloud-based and mobile applications -- assuming Chrome is strong out of the box and ships on time.
"Should Google hit a home run with Chrome OS, it will clearly take a leadership role among client software -- behind Windows and Appls OS X," added Williams. "Chrome OS also has the potential to become a major aggregation point for consumer Web applications, such as Yahoo! Mail, Pandora, Hulu, Facebook and Twitter."
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.