Google's Chrome OS: Dead Before Arrival?

Last week Google (GOOG) showed off its progress on Chrome OS, introduced an apps store in support of it, and offered up a prerelease hardware trial program (real machines won't ship until mid-2011). But it's likely all for naught. Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt's objective of making Chrome OS a "viable third choice" in operating systems looks doomed.

Right now, the hot trends in technology are social, real-time, mobile, and cloud computing. Chrome OS is optimized for only one of them; its machines are true cloud clients. There's nothing in Chrome OS or its user interface that accommodates social media or real-time information feeds. Schmidt even evoked the old Network Computer vision. Chrome OS computers will be highly dependent on the cloud for applications and minimally functional when disconnected. They'll have cellular modems, but it's not clear that existing networks can handle the network traffic demands of a cloud-centric client.

Questionable Positioning

Chrome OS also suffers from awkward positioning: both externally, to developers and potential customers, and internally, within Google's own product lineup. While it's true that PCs serve both companies and consumers, the value of the Network Computer premise appeals only to enterprise IT managers. Its manageability and simplified functionality play best in such applications as airline reservations, point-of-sale terminals, and ATMs, or in limited-application mobile devices used in shipping and store inventory management. Yet at least for now, app stores are purely consumer offerings. The apps that Google showed last week came from media companies (The New York Times, (NYT) NPR, Sports Illustrated (TWX)), Electronic Arts (ERTS), and Amazon (AMZN).

Meanwhile, Google itself says Android will be its primary tablet operating system. In fact, Google aims Android at most of the best opportunities to establish new or alternative operating systems. I'd argue that there are three product categories where Google could try to establish a new OS platform, either with Android or Chrome OS. I discuss these in more detail at GigaOM Pro (subscription required).

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