GOOGLE opened yet another front in its war on Microsoft earlier this week by announcing the launch of its new PC operating system. Chrome will compete directly with Microsoft’s sacred cash cow, Windows, which accounted for around 45 per cent of the software giant’s $22.5bn operating profit last year. Google’s decision to take on Microsoft on its home turf is unlikely to result in a killer blow, but it forces the firm to defend yet more territory;
Chrome will initially be targeted at makers of unsophisticated, cheap and ultra-portable laptops known as netbooks. I’m currently writing this column on one, which cost just £150. Crucially, it doesn’t come preloaded with Windows, which is partly why it was so cheap. Instead it sports an operating system based on the open-source Linux, which Google plans to use for Chrome.
Like the other products Google has launched to fight Microsoft, such as Office competitor Google Docs, Chrome will undercut the price of Windows significantly; it could even be free. The internet giant is happy to launch these loss leaders because it hopes they will drive consumers to its web services, and feed the search advertising business on which it depends for virtually all its revenues.
Google is also hoping that Chrome will change the way we interact with PCs. For its advertising business to be successful, it needs us to constantly search for things – so it can match relevant ads to the results – rather than storing stuff in folders, as we do in Windows.
Analysts are right when they say that it will take years for Chrome to have a real impact on Microsoft’s revenues, but many of the traditional barriers to competition are falling. As computers become less sophisticated, and get their power from super-fast internet connections, internet firms like Google have the most to gain.
Like any war, there are not just two sides, however. Although we fixate on Google vs Microsoft, it is the other free “open-source” players that will give Chrome its hardest task on the front line. In the case of internet browsers, for example, Mozilla’s excellent open-source Firefox has been the most dangerous opponent to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer – not Google. The same will be true in the operating system space. Although Microsoft is sure to lose its dominance eventually, Google mightn’t build an empire in its place.
Instead, other Linux-based operating systems such as Ubuntu and Linpus – which is powering this netbook – are the insurgents that could scupper Google’s battlefield tactics.