Google’s Chrome operating system has received a mixed reception from local industry, with several analysts and channel organisations divided on whether it can steal share from Microsoft in the enterprise market.
Last week, the search giant announced the new open-source operating system, initially geared towards netbooks. Chrome is set to ship in the second half of 2010, and, according to Google, will be ‘lightweight’ and heavily Web-centric.
Consulting firm, Ovum, was sceptical of Chrome’s ability to loosen Microsoft’s grip in the operating system market. In a press statement, Ovum open source director, Laurent Lachal, claimed that with Windows 7 about to ship, it would have been better for Google to release, rather than simply announce, an alternative for the netbook market.
“Key to Google’s OS success will be its ability to create a strong community around it,” Lachal said in the statement.
Managing director of premier Google partner Devnet, Craig Deveson, said Chrome had the potential to invade corporate IT environments. While Microsoft had the legacy to back it up, a large portion of business users do not require a fully fledged operating system.
Google Chrome’s simplicity and speedy access will give Windows 7 a run for its money, he said.
“At the moment, everybody gets everything on Windows and therefore the hardware and licensing is not necessarily the right thing for each user,” Deveson said. “I see Chrome being a competitive alternative for certain applications.”
And although Google Chrome OS could end up a free download, Deveson saw ample reseller opportunities in areas such as moving clients to a cloud computing environment.
“The chance to make money lies in shifting clients into that cloud model and associated services such as consulting,” he said. “Product opportunities will largely be around Google applications and other commercial products that sit on top of Chrome.” Operations manager at fellow Google partner BluePoint, Craig McLaughlin, said it was too early to talk about the impact Chrome OS would have on Windows 7, but he was confident in the vendor’s expertise.
“It will give our customers a wider choice,” he said. McLaughlin also saw the new operating system cementing Google’s position in the enterprise space. “Combined with Google’s plans for the Wave, it is making a real push into the enterprise space,” he said. “The company is no longer just a consumer-based business.”
But for several analysts and Microsoft partners, Chrome was destined to be confined to consumer and low-end markets. Many saw the change management required to shift to an entirely different operating system too great of an inhibitor in dislodging Windows 7. Springboard Research country manager, Phil Hassey, said the announcement was clearly aimed at Microsoft, but he claimed Chrome’s traction with enterprises would be limited.
“There’s more to installing an operating system in an enterprise than tossing the CD in the drive,” he said. “It’s a good thing from Google – and these vendors know one another so it’s not coincidental timing – but it’s not something I see enterprises taking up.”
The consumer space might form a better market for Chrome, Hassey said, and it may find fans among netbook users, but he again remained skeptical.
“If you have a look at Linux, it hasn’t had much traction as a Microsoft alternative in consumer segments,” he said. “Google has better branding in those markets than Linux, but Microsoft already has manufacturers on-board its platform.”
In the SOHO and SMB markets, Microsoft could have a cultural battle on its hands with Chrome, but Windows 7 was already gaining favour, ASI product manager, Craig Quinn, said.
“We’ve seen more acceptance of Windows 7 compared to the XP to Vista transition,” he said. “There has been a drop of customers asking for XP downgrades, and more acceptance in general for the format.
“Google is part of the lexicon and Microsoft is going to have to battle to get the mindset of customers going forward.”
Dimension Data general manager of Microsoft solutions, Brian Walshe, said Google’s announcement didn’t provide enough information to accurately gauge the threat it posed.
“The release of Chrome is so far away, and there are no details or code for us to look at,” he said. “What Google has done well is make a press release to take away some of the shine of Windows 7.
“Looking at the netbook market, another operating system could work, but even there, if you look at areas like education, you don’t just roll it out with a copy of the operating system running on it. There’s a management story behind it that I don’t think Google can initially provide.”
While Google Chrome might not be a genuine competitor for Windows 7, Walshe admitted it would be competing with other Microsoft products.
“If you have a look at Microsoft’s Gazelle [Web browser] platform – it’s a far more logical competitor for Google Chrome,” he said.