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12/15/2010
02:25 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Why Chrome OS Will Succeed

Google's "third choice" of operating system will sell itself to businesses and schools.

The launch of a preview version of Google's Chrome OS last week brings doubt in its wake. Despite CEO Eric Schmidt's praise of the project and the assertions of Google product managers that "nothing but the Web" is enough, there's skepticism about whether the Web alone will do and whether Chrome OS can emerge from Android's shadow.

Paul Buchheit, a former engineer with Google and Facebook who has since joined a venture capital firm, predicted via tweet that Chrome OS would be killed next year or merged with Android. Free software defender Richard Stallman is reiterating his objection to surrendering control of one's data by relying on cloud-based services like Chrome OS.

Buchheit may be correct that Chrome OS and Android will converge over time, but it won't happen next year and it won't be a complete unification under a single brand or product. The simple reason for this is Oracle's lawsuit against Google, which has the potential to throw a wrench into Android's works. Oracle claims Google's Android software infringes its copyrights, a charge Google has vigorously denied. The lawsuit will drag on for years and Google can protect itself by having a fallback operating system in case Oracle gains the upper hand and no settlement is possible.

Chrome OS will gain traction and thrive because it addresses longstanding problems with computers and appears to do so in a way that will save organizations money. The problem is that, while computers have become essential tools for digital content creation, their computing power is often overkill for the job that a company needs. Specifically, the ability to install executable code often is a liability, a problem Chrome OS eliminates. Chrome OS is made for businesses.

Recently, I spent a few minutes talking to Sundar Pichai, the Google product manager who has been overseeing the development of Chrome OS. CIOs, he said, are eager to pilot Chrome OS netbooks in their organizations. And it's not hard to see why. If you're running, say, a large hotel group, you may want company staff to have access to e-mail and Web-based applications without the cost of providing and maintaining a PC with unnecessary horsepower for things like video editing.

The situation is the same for school IT administrators, who see real cost savings in not having to worry about wiping PCs clean of malware every few weeks or keeping the devices updated.

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