Google Chrome likely a niche player in Windows enterprise

Google plans to launch the Google Chrome OS next year as an alternative to Microsoft's Windows. IT pros expect the OS to be a disruptive technology with a place in devices and netbooks.

IT managers and other experts don't expect a Google OS to upend Microsoft and the Windows OS anytime soon, but it will likely settle into a niche with netbooks and other devices.

When it becomes available next year, Google said its Chrome OS will be a free, open source project, separate from Android, which is designed for mobile phones. Chrome, which is based on the Linux OS, will focus on Web applications and will overlap with Android in some areas.

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 One IT pro said he is skeptical about the overall utility of the OS for the enterprise because of its specificity for Web-based applications. Chrome's place will depend on the applications IT shops need to run, the performance, and the comfort level with keeping data in the cloud, according to Matthew Leeds, VP of operations at the music sharing website Gracenote.

"Using it for email, sure, but my Blackberry does a fine job already," Leeds said. "Spreadsheet and presentation, depends. But do I really want my corporate budget stored in the cloud? And where is that cloud? There are certain data locality issues that fall under various regulatory requirements -- HIPAA, SOX, EU. What support for encryption, both in transit and at rest, will there be in Web-based applications?"

On the other hand, Chrome could be well suited for devices where Windows has been considered a detriment by some. "Palm Treos haven't competed well with Blackberry because they use Windows [Mobile]. If they were using [Google] Android, we would probably all be using Palm Treos today," said Todd Knapp, CTO and co-founder of Providence-based IT consultancy firm Envision Technology Advisors.

Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based consulting firm, said Chrome's success with devices and netbooks will depend on its application support, speed and security. "If Chrome OS devices offer good value – good app, fast start time – then, yes, people will bring them into organizations, much like they did the iPhone."

Chrome servers?

Having the option for Chrome as a server OS is on one IT pro's wish list though. "A really cool killer application would be for a server OS that had the same attributes [as Google Chrome 0S] with less boot time, fewer patches and so on," said Aaron Sawchuk, COO of the Rockland, Mass.-based colocation facility ColoSpace Inc.

In fact, Google's move to develop its own operating system stems from those frustrations over long boot and wait times, configuration issues, security issues and software updates -- a description that matches complaints about Microsoft's Windows OS.

"The operating systems that browsers run on [today] were designed in the pre-Web era. The Google Chrome Operating System is our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be," Google executives wrote on the company's website.

Hell will freeze, pigs will fly

Google is not providing many details about the project, but it has revealed some attributes. For example, it will give users "access to email instantly, without wasting time waiting for their computers to boot and browsers to start up." Google promised that users won't have to spend "hours configuring their computers to work with every new piece of hardware or have to worry about constant software updates."

On that level, the Chrome OS seems to be positioned as an alternative to Windows, but it is highly unlikely that IT pros will abandon Windows installations. In fact, Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff said the Chrome OS will cause a Windows upheaval only "when hell freezes over and pigs fly."

"We've had 'desktop Linux' initiatives for years and they have gone precisely nowhere in any sort of a mainstream way," Haff said. "Google's heft notwithstanding, it's hard to see why this should be any different. At one level, this isn't even news, given that a lot of people have been tacitly assuming we'd see Google Android on Netbooks anyway."

But the Chrome OS has a better shot at adoption than other open source OSes, like Linux, because the Google powerhouse is behind it, Envision's Knapp said.

"Linux didn't have a strong organization to drive it. But Chrome has Google, and they are a very forward looking company. They are building Chrome to take advantage of the Web and next-generation technologies, like virtualization," Knapp said.

Even if Chrome poses no threat to Windows, it will, at the very least, get Microsoft thinking about simplifying its OS.

"Will it be disruptive to Windows in the enterprise? Probably not. But will it force evolution? Absolutely," Knapp said. "At the end of the day, it will force Microsoft to think JeOs (Just Enough Operating System) a little more … and Microsoft has so much overhead it would have to take a sledge hammer to Windows to do that."

Later this year, Google will release the source code. And netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010. Google Chrome OS will run on both x86 and ARM chips and will eventually make its way beyond netbooks to desktops and other devices.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

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