Google’s Long Play

Matt Yglesias isn’t totally impressed with Google’s new plans for the Chrome Operating System.

I have to say that I’ve never totally understood the appeal of the netbook concept. The low cost is nice, but you can’t use it as your main “go to” computer. So if you have to buy another computer anyway, you may as well invest in a decent laptop. It’s not as if my 13 inch MacBook Pro is so crippling heavy I can’t take it around with me. And I get around town by walking/biking—what does America’s car-dependent majority need with an ultra-light computer?

There’s a bit more in Matt’s post —  beginning with the phrase “On substance” — but I’m going to carry on anyway, because I think his initial response fails to account for the long term strategy here. From Google’s announcement:

Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks.

Matt’s pronouncement about netbooks seems fairly shortsighted. It’s fairly obvious the trajectory of personal computing is one that does away with physical media. For example, the MacBook Air might not be a great product yet, but don’t be shocked if in a few years CD-ROM drives go the way of the floppy. Following along these lines then, Google isn’t so much “initially” targeting the netbook as much as it is trying to carve out market share on the device most likely to be at the forefront of personal computing.

What’s more, even if Chrome proves mostly to be a repackaging of Linux under the Google imprimatur (as Matt postulates), I think the move is still extremely significant. Despite Google’s tentacular reach in the digital economy, it’s not inconceivable — though unlikely — that the Google empire could be undone if someone manages to substanitally improve the way people search. Again, it’s a serious uphill climb, but with the right resources, and crucially, the right product, a company — say Microsoft — could suck away advertisers, ultimately reducing Google’s share of ad dollars until it could no longer sustain itself to lose money on YouTube. Google’s strategy seems to be the opposite (though entirely consistent with Google’s horizontal movement), which is to move in to the space that Microsoft dominated. It doesn’t take a genius to see the power that comes with being the chief provider of operating systems, nor does it take the sagacity of Buddha to see why a Google Operating System would drive users towards using a Google search — especially if functional integration actually created a better experience.

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2 Responses to “Google’s Long Play”

  1. Mike Says:

    I like where you’re headed with the Macbook air bit. Having used one, I’d say the lack of any drives larger than USB is not of particular concern. If it wasnt so expensive the things would be everywhere.

    Also, almost every google product starts beta-simple and adds complexity and features and eventually turns into something worthwhile (exceptions: Knol). Look at how much more intricate and integrated google maps or gmail is now than it was at launch.

    This isn’t an original point, but Silicon Alley mentions that 50% of microsoft’s revenue comes from its OS, so this is a serious threat that microsoft can’t laugh off. And with Macs (unfortunately) on the rise, we could be looking at a 3 party system.

    And last one — it’s been awhile since I commented, lot to unload here — like microsoft, google is almost entirely reliant on one thing for revenue: adwords and adsense. Ten years ago nobody had any idea what google would do. I was using fucking altavista to search the webs. Who’s to say how things will be in ten more?

  2. Adam Says:

    Chrome OS is all a bunch of vapor at this point. The goal of the announcement was more geared towards taking the wind out of Microsoft’s announcement this coming Monday about the release of a cloud-based Office. On the topic of Google’s dependance on search, I’d recommend Mark Cuban’s recent post:
    http://blogmaverick.com/2009/07/05/the-freemium-company-lifecycle-challenge/
    As with anything Cuban says, take it with a grain of salt, but there are definitely some nuggets of gold in there.


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