Chrome OS opens as Chromium: A Quantum Leap or Too Early to Tell?

Today, Google introduced the world to their Chrome operating system by releasing its code base and initial interface work as the open source Chromium OS. All the major tech watchers were on hand at a conference to cover the news. Google, of course, made their own announcement via Blogger and posted an introductory video on YouTube. Obviously, a lot of it is still unshaped, but based on the direction and structure of the project, it’s easy to get excited or pessimistic about it. Watch the explanation and tell me what you think. My thoughts after the jump.

Okay, I predicted earlier that Chrome OS was going to make the biggest impact on netbooks and nettops, potentially giving them a major distinction from notebooks and desktops other than reduced power and cost. John Biggs from CrunchGear shares that view. Erick Schonfeld of TechCrunch wonders if limiting applications to web apps is too limiting. Erick has a point, but I think that limit is actually its strength, and here’s why.

People don’t like complicated operating systems. And by people, I mean, the regular folks who automatically click “yes” every time a security alert pops up. Regular people don’t want to make their computer work; they just want it to work. Installing programs is a hassle. UAC is an obstacle. People want things simple, especially people who buy small, simple computers like netbooks. People buy netbooks and nettops intending to use them for stuff on the Internet. That’s a self-imposed, mental limit in addition to the hardware limits. An operating system that works within that limit and makes the most of it isn’t a detriment but rather an advantage.

With Chromium, they’re streamlining the code, not worrying about native code compatibility, and focusing entirely on web standards. With Windows, the focus is on supporting everything possible. Yes, Windows is still the better choice for broad compatibility, but in medical terms, it’s a general practitioner whereas Chromium is a specialist. A GP has broad ability, but they won’t match a specialist in their given field. Chromium is a specialist, albeit in a very broad field.

I hardly think Chrome OS will squeeze Windows out of existence, but in the low-cost, thin-margin netbook and nettop markets, Windows is going to look like a huge expense compared to a free OS designed specifically for the ‘net backed by a major brand. It will be relatively easy for Chrome to get a foothold in this market and lock in an audience. The only question is how far it will grow from there. Stuck in a niche or sky’s the limit?