Sunday, July 12, 2009

They still don't get it

Rob Hof writes at BusinessWeek:

First of all, let's put to rest the notion that Google expects to replace Windows, at least anytime soon. ... I'm not sure why Chrome OS couldn't be a second operating system on the same machine. After all, it's free, and both disk and flash-memory storage is pretty cheap, so I'm not sure I see much downside in installing both on a machine.

Don't see the downside? Here's the downside: $119.99 for the home edition upgrade to Windows 7. That's the low end of purchasing Windows 7 outright, and probably not much more than the cost of getting it pre-installed on a new machine.

With Google's announcement (obviously timed to prang Microsoft's rollout of a new, expensive product), The Era of Paying for Operating Systems is officially over.

That era could have, maybe should have, been over with the introduction of Linux, but there were some rough patches to get past.

To the general public, Linux and the open source movement looked like a bunch of hippies pushing flower power; Microsoft looked like the safe, solid choice.

Linux also looked complicated at first, and most people still don't seem to have noticed that, these days, most Linux distributions are now at least as easy to install and configure as any recent Windows version.

And, of course, there was that huge library of applications that one would have to give up to make the change (because configuring WINE to run them sounded complicated and scary).

What's changed? Everything!

Google is now perceived by most people as a "safe, solid choice" just -- like Microsoft. It ain't no gang of hippies pushing this new OS, it's one of the biggest players in the industry.

The new OS is going to come pre-loaded on new machines from major manufacturers, just like Windows used to ... and those new machines won't cost as much as their twins which come with Windows 7. If you want to install it on an existing machine, it will be free to download and damn near free to buy on CD-ROM.

Finally, applications are moving into the "cloud." Doesn't matter what OS you're running. As long as you're running a browser (and perhaps a plug-in, which the app manufacturer will certainly make available for all major browsers), you're good to go. Even Microsoft realizes this and is busily moving its own major applications online. Within a couple of years, that old Windows apps library (excluding some games) will be as obsolete, and of interest to as few people, as WordPerfect for DOS is now.

Look at it from the perspective of a business which currently runs hard-drive-based applications and maintains an IT staff to constantly maintain and update them. Soon, those applications are going to be accessed via the web instead of at the machine level, and the maintenance and updating is going to be done from the vendor side. Even if the licenses just cost as much (unlikely), the customer's overhead is going to go way down.

With the mere announcement of the new OS, Google has effectively destroyed one of Microsoft's two major profit centers (operating systems) and made a major dent in the second (applications). Google has a fighting chance at dominance of the "cloud" apps battlefield, and a dominating position on the one remaining battlefield, search.

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