Will Google OS reset desktop expectations?

Revolution or evolution: How Chrome OS can change the game in battle with Windows

With the Internet abuzz this week about Google's newly announced plan for its upcoming Chrome OS operating system, some analysts are wondering what exactly will set it apart from its popular -- and established -- rivals.

Google hasn't yet given up a lot of information about its Chrome OS, so there's plenty of room for speculation about potential features -- and whether the technology will give users a reason to switch from the operating systems they're using.

Some analysts are already saying that Google's decision to build the operating system on a Linux kernel gives a bit of a ho-hum quality to the announcement.

"The fact that this is based off a Linux distribution tells me it's more of an integration of Chrome into Linux than it is a revolutionary new OS," said Al Gillen, an analyst with IDC. "Linux is not an unknown entity. Customers are familiar with it. It's not a fundamentally different operating system. Google Chrome OS can leverage some good things from Linux today and bring some good things to the Linux ecosystem."

So now the job for some observers is to speculate how the new operating system can set itself apart from established products like Windows. Most say Google is likely to focus on creating a tighter integration with new media and social networking sites like Twitter.

"Google needs to use angles of attack that don't go up against Microsoft's strengths," said Gillen. "You can't beat Microsoft at its own game. You have to change the game. A big part of it has to be a much tighter integration of new media. Social networking needs to become part of the desktop experience. It could be that Google, with Chrome OS, will take a new approach to this."

Gillen added that possibly instead of Twitter, for instance, running inside a browser, the microblogging service could render itself as a gadget in the corner of the desktop.

"Take it out of the browser and make it part of your overall experience," he said. "Right now, it's open in the Web site and you interact with it there. These things could be integrated, and the company that could get there first can reset expectations about what the desktop could look like."

Michael Silver, an analyst with Gartner Inc., said Google engineers have a big job in front of them if they're to come out with technology that gives users features unavailable in Windows.

"We're talking about what an OS is and developing it for the market as it is today, rather than the market as it was when Windows was originally developed," he added. "Today, everything is Web based. Before, people weren't connected at this level, which leads to a whole new level of security problems. There will have to be more security. [Google] has a lot on their plate."

Dan Olds, an analyst at The Gabriel Consulting Group Inc., agrees that Google probably will - or at least should - build in better security and availability features, like automatic net backup of documents and better spam and virus protection. But he also thinks Google will try to make an obvious stand apart from Windows.

"As a netbook OS, Google Chrome will probably be quite a bit different from what users are accustomed to with Windows," he added. "It should boot much, much quicker and give users access to their most frequently used apps, like email, much faster. If a user can be happy with the basics supplied by Google Apps -- Gmail, word processing, spreadsheet, etc. -- and by other applications they can get over the Internet - then the Google OS might be a reasonable alternative."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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