When major events unfold, and Google’s Chrome OS announcement certainly qualifies, I like to take a look at who stands to gain and who stands to lose, both to get a feel for how the event affects the future and how others could react. So who reaps the rewards in this and who gets hit with a stick? Here are my thoughts:
LOSER – Microsoft: Okay, that one’s a gimme, but it is critical to note that Microsoft has never faced a major competitor in the consumer OS market. No offense to the Linux supporters, but the Linux vendors have not been a major threat to Microsoft and even the opening with Microsoft’s netbook fumble has garnered minimal market penetration. And Apple limits their operating systems to their own products, so they’re not a direct competitor. No, Microsoft has been sitting comfortably on a near-monopoly for more than a decade. Now they face a powerful opponent entering the market in an area where Microsoft has shown great weakness, i.e., handhelds, netbooks and other low-powered computers. Chrome OS won’t take down Windows, but it could break its iron grip.
LOSER – Linux vendors and proponents: If Chrome OS was a Linux build, then you’d have yourselves a powerful champion. But it’s not, so you don’t. It’s built on the Linux kernel, but so is Android, which is not a flavor of Linux. Also, it’s likely to lure many netbook and MID vendors away from custom Linux builds completely. But at least Chrome OS will be open source.
LOSER – CrunchPad: CrunchPad is a tablet computer that boots straight to web browsing. Chrome OS will allow any computer to boot straight to web browsing. No reason the two can’t co-exist, but it obviously detracts from the CrunchPad’s novelty. Also, someone sank money into making a custom OS that Google is aiming to render obsolete. That’s gotta hurt.
WINNER – Cloud computing: Chrome OS is designed specifically for cloud computing. Google will likely be the main beneficiary of this, but other web application services, such as Evernote and Zoho, will also benefit as it becomes easier to use web-based apps.
WINNER (somewhat) – Apple: Again, Apple does not compete directly in the consumer OS market. They also do not offer a netbook and are open to letting other operating systems run on Macs, so Chrome OS and Mac OS X can easily co-exist. Seems like they’d be fairly unaffected by the news, except that the Chrome web browser is based on the WebKit engine. Though not stated, it’s pretty safe to assume Chrome OS will also use WebKit. This gives a higher profile to the engine, which benefits Apple since it’s the one they helped develop and use. Anything good for WebKit is good for Apple.
WINNER – PC makers looking to get out from under Microsoft: The lackluster sales of Vista and Microsoft’s sub-par support for emerging form factors, such as netbooks and UMPCs, left a lot of PC makers stuck in the mud. Google Chrome OS won’t be a cure-all for them, but it is an option with a name consumers will recognize. Update: Google posted the list of PC makers hoping to get on the winner’s bus.
WINNER – Us! Chrome OS is expected to sip power and run quickly on limited hardware. Even though it’s web-centric, there’s no doubt that it will integrate Gears (formerly Google Gears), allowing data to be stored, accessed, and in many cases, manipulated locally, so you’ll still have your data even if you can’t connect. These are great benefits for mobile computer users, particularly for the fledgling MID market, but also for the many casual users who just want to get on the web. Chrome OS could reach a lot of users and could help make cheap Internet devices as commonplace as TVs.
Don’t think others will directly see much upside or detriment. Yahoo! can’t like the idea of another Google OS, but more web usage is good for them. There’s no direct effect on smartphones, though it may indirectly affect the market by leading to breakthroughs in Android. Still, my list is hardly exhaustive. If you have any picks, let us know.