ARM loves Google OS

I just read an upbeat post about Chrome OS from Bob Morris, the director of Mobile computing at ARM. Here’s an excerpt:

It truly levels the playing field for platforms. For the most part today, the OS and HW are closely connected and this drove platforms that slowly innovated. Chrome OS blows this apart, the OS is the browser, which makes the hw irrelevant since applications are written in HTML5 and JavaScript they run on the browser without hw ties. Wow … coming from a company that builds CPUs that should worry me … NOT! (read more)

I understand why Bob Morris is excited about Chrome: today, Windows has 92.64% of market share and it doesn’t run on ARM. Mac OS X doesn’t run on ARM either (update: I’m thinking about “desktop” Mac OS), and what that means is that ARM is currently locked out of a huge chunk of the computing experience. The company hopes that Chrome will make the OS completely transparent to end-users. Why is he not worried? ARM has absolutely nothing to lose with Chrome OS.

But is the hardware and software so “closely connected” that it “prevents innovation” as Bob Morris says? I don’t think so. On Windows or Mac, anyone can build a hardware extension and provide a driver. Anyone can write software too. The only “problem” (for ARM) is that the two major OS are running on X86 processors (Intel, AMD). By the way, Google Chrome will be pretty strict about hardware too, at least initially. Here’s a list of compatible hardware.

Mr. Morris goes on to say “Where is the creativity, differentiation with color? Wow. With the Chrome OS you will not be locked down to the same looking HW platform and UI”.

Really? we won’t be locked down to the same UI (user interface)? I hate to break the news, but Chrome OS does not have a user interface… it is just there to launch the same Chrome Browser that you can also get on Windows and Mac.

Let’s be clear: my opinion is that the more choices, the better. However, I think that some of the arguments made by Bob Morris post aren’t very solid. ARM’s main issue is that its instruction set is not supported by two major operating systems. That’s why Chrome OS (which will work on ARM) is such a big deal for the company. As for you and I, we will benefit from an increased competition, but don’t expect any miracles. ARM is a formidable player in the mobile space, but the fight will be much tougher in the personal computer space. Rich web apps can be computing cycles hogs compared to mobile apps, and the display is the main power drain.

What Google is really trying to overcome is the web browser that is embedded in the Operating System: Internet Explorer, Safari or even Firefox, depending what OS we’re talking about. Despite being widely successful over the past years, Firefox has “only” 21.53% of market share. It’s admittedly huge, but it shows how being embedded in the OS can help: despite all its flaws, Internet Explorer still holds 67.55% of the browser market. And each time someone buys a new PC or Mac, there’s a risk that they will fall back to the default browser… and its default search (Bing?). Millions of Netbooks are shipping each quarter, with Internet Explorer in them, and IE is getting better.

Google is by large protected by its formidable brand at the moment, but it would rather see its browser, and its search engine + services, be the default choice, rather than a conscious user choice. This would give it another layer of protection against user migration.

Google has to reverse the consumer repulsion for computers that don’t run on Windows (or Mac). That’s the problem Linux Netbooks had from day one (they are mostly dead now), despite early talks that the “OS doesn’t matter” because it’s an “Internet Computer”, term used by Bob Morris. I’m not convinced that Google can spin this one. At the end of the day, to the user it just feels like Windows or Mac OS can do everything Chrome OS can – and more. Sure, Chrome OS boots faster (7 sec), but how many times do you boot a day? (I would pay for *real* instant-on, though) It might require less memory, but that’s really cheap. Plus, we’ve seen that people are actually ready to buy more expensive Netbooks that behave like “normal” computers on which stuff like MS Office or Skype can be installed.

There are other Linux-based “quick boot” solutions out there (Chrome OS is a primitive version of that for now). Device VM is the most successful because it has a symbiotic, rather than confrontational, relationship with Windows.

Will Google succeed? I don’t know, it’s too early to tell and there are too many possible evolutions. I just an uphill battle for now. Should Google try? Absolutely. Just like any company, they want to shape the industry into their own image (the web). That’s how they can use their strengths against the competition.

Related: Chrome OS, what’s new?. I also recommend the following reads: Chrome OS no slam dunk (ComputerWorld), Bill Gates take on Chrome OS (CNET), Five things Chrome OS will do for your Netbook (Wired)

Links: Chrome OS launched (official page)

This article was filed in Homepage > Computers > Top Stories and was tagged with AMD, ARM, Google, google chrome, Intel and os.
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