Google's Chrome OS, announced last week, is likely to be the first cloud-oriented operating system. It is designed to run web-based applications, which many believe will take over from traditional desktop applications.
If Chrome OS succeeds in being light, fast, secure and web-application friendly, many believe it will only be a matter of time until it challenges Microsoft's position as the dominant operating system supplier.
Google plans to begin the assault by focusing on netbook PCs, which need a more lightweight operating system and are not yet dominated by Windows. But over time, the operating system could make in-roads into desktop PCs.
Chrome will attract the attention of consumers first, but it could find applications in businesses, particularly those that have large numbers of staff who do not need access to processing-intensive applications.
Potential business users
Andrew Gough, cloud offer development manager at Capgemini, says businesses that already benefit from Google Apps could get a boost from Chrome OS. "These are businesses that have few heavy-duty users and a small back-office workforce compared with the shop floor," he says.
Retailers, where a large proportion of the workforce typically do not have access to computers or the internet, are one example.
"If Chrome OS succeeds in being fast, simple and secure, it could provide the first business case for digitally enabling currently disenfranchised workers," he says.
"Businesses will be able to automate processes that can be accessed on a self-service basis to reduce the currently high levels of management input needed."
Ray Valdes, research director at Gartner, says, "It will be three to five years before Chrome OS has any impact on the enterprise sector, but success will depend on delivering a better user experience from the outset."
Ronan Miles, chairman of the UK Oracle User Group, says business will treat Chrome in the same way as other consumer products.
"Some will pick it up, but many will view it as a change that needs to prove itself. It will really depend on how the business uses IT," he says.
Bob Tarzey, analyst at Quocirca, points out that Chrome OS is little more than an announcement at present. But the announcement serves to disrupt the market and create uncertainty, which is an old Microsoft tactic.
"Google knows it must drive business to web applications, and Chrome OS will give it the chance to partner with device manufacturers to enable easier access," he says.
Gough says Google's announcement is equivalent to what Microsoft calls "educating the market". "It will serve to get developers thinking and to alert consumers, who may hold off upgrading to Windows 7 until Chrome OS is released," he says.
Don't believe the hype
But others are sceptical. There has been much speculation that Chrome OS will end Microsoft's dominance, but there will be no immediate showdown, says Laurent Lachal, senior analyst at Ovum. "Google likes to experiment, but not all experiments are successful," he says.
Lachal also points out that, despite the hype, Google's previous departure into software, the Chrome browser, has not made much impact, making up less than 2% of the browser market.
"Chrome OS is to focus initially on netbooks - a very small market segment - and any advances against Microsoft's dominant position with Windows will be slow," he says.
The cost implications of changing to an entirely new operating system requiring new skills to use may mean that businesses will be slow to adopt the Google operating system.
If nothing else, Chrome OS promises to shake up the market and stimulate innovation, which can only benefit the end-user.
Nick Jones, vice-president at Gartner, says existing operating systems have accumulated 20 years of architectural detritus. "It is impossible to make them secure or usable and it is time to start again," he says.
Despite widespread enthusiasm for an operating system like that planned by Google, Chrome OS, like the browser, will take time to make an impact. ●