Analysts: Google has muscle for long-term battle with Microsoft Windows

Upcoming Chrome OS is latest weapon in Google's ongoing 'guerilla war' with Microsoft

As Google Inc. acknowledges that its engineers are working on an operating system for netbooks and PCs, analysts say it's the company in the best position to take on Microsoft Corp. and its vaunted Windows software.

In a blog item posted Tuesday night, Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management at Google, said the company is working to deliver the new Google Chrome OS in the second half of 2010. Noting that Google's engineers are "rethinking what operating systems should be," Pichai said the Chrome OS will be lightweight and open source.

It's a bold move for any company to tread in a market that has so long been stubbornly held in Microsoft's grip. Others have tried and failed to make a noticeable dent in Microsoft's worldwide share of the operating systems market. But Google, which would be considered the Goliath in most industry duels, has the financial muscle, the engineering might and the industry clout to actually put up a fight with an industry powerhouse like Microsoft, analysts said.

"I think they are fighting a guerilla war with Microsoft, with the goal of chipping away and gaining more market share over time. And this is well within their capabilities," said Dan Olds, principal analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "It's also important to remember that Google doesn't need an OS to support its revenue stream. They have lots and lots of revenue from their advertising bread and butter. That means they have staying power and that's critically important in this market. If anyone is going to take on Microsoft successfully, Google has the resources, engineering, and time to do it."

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said a lot of companies have the technical prowess to build the operating system, but lack the financial muscle needed to go head-to-head with something as entrenched in global enterprises and individual homes as Windows.

Net Applications Inc., which tracks Web site activity, reported that the Windows OS had an 87.75% market share in May.

"Can Google do the deals and get the distribution and the mindshare to compete? Can they put it over the top?" asks Gottheil. "There are very few companies that have what Google has in terms of audience, PR, money and the capability to deal seriously with major vendors. That does distinguish them from other candidates."

Gottheil was also quick to note that Google won't steal large chunks of operating system market share from Microsoft anytime soon. Enterprises are too focused on legacy systems and continuity to look for an immediate major change. Microsoft should own that market for quite some time, he added.

Google will first focus on individual users shopping for new netbooks or light-weight PCs that are easy to use and integrated with today's online life.

Michael Silver, an analyst with Gartner Inc., noted that Google has the name brand and clout to have doors opened to them in the industry. And that's going to come in handy because they'll need to convince software makers to write more and more robust applications for Chrome OS.

"Google has already been successful on some fronts, like search, where Microsoft has had problems playing catch-up," Silver said. "Google had really shown Microsoft how to do search. And they have a lot of money and good brand recognition. Certainly, they have a vision that is different and disruptive and innovative, so they certainly have as good a chance as anyone, if not better."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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