This is Google’s biggest, most controversial move ever – introducing an operating system to directly compete with Microsoft and Apple. I think this is actually a watershed moment for Google – it’s either the moment that they finally transcend search and truly move beyond the Company’s origins, or its the beginning of the end – the final proof that Google, perhaps like the Roman Empire, has just expanded too much, too soon.
My initial reaction here is that this is mostly a bad move by Google, for several reasons. First, as if it already wasn’t clear, this is a declaration of war against Microsoft. Though Microsoft is not the power it was 10 years ago, it’s still a company that is best left off your enemy list. $80 million advertising campaign for Bing – try $500 million now.
Second, building an OS is tough, much tougher than just building algorithms. In the past, Google has released their SaaS products full of bugs, content to let users sort out the problems and keep the software in perpetual beta. That sort of happy-go-luck approach won’t work if your OS crashes someone’s computer. Indeed, that’s the very marketing approach Apple has successful used to cut into Microsoft’s OS share.
Third, related to the challenges of building an OS, if a Google OS has lots of problems, it could well create a crack in the to-date impenetrable brand that is Google. The Google that consumers love may become, well, like Microsoft.
Fourth, if Google is successful, the combination of search dominance, apps, mobile phones, and then OS may be the straw that breaks the DOJ’s back. Indeed, the bundling of IE and Windows was at the core of the DOJ case against Microsoft – could Chrome and Chrome OS result in similar problems.
Fifth, as noted, the lack of focus. Google has teams working on mobile, office software, browsers, operating systems, maps, news, portals (the recent real estate announcement), and a dozen other side projects. What’s the Company’s priority, and how does search fit into this? Search is still the vast lion’s share of revenue – but is Google not putting their effort into the revenue basis for the company?
So what’s good about this move? Well, it will make people in Redmond paranoid, which I guess could divert focus from the Bing-Google battle (as noted, it will have the opposite impact). And I do like Google’s attempt to make this an open source OS, and to use developers from outside the company to contribute to this effort. As we’ve seen with Mozilla Firefox, this sort of approach can work.
Overall though, call me a cynic, but I think there are too many potential negatives here. Though I don’t think this is the beginning of the end – Google has plenty of runway ahead of itself – I do think this is a move that will later be seen as a big mistake.