I was looking through all my favorite web sites for news on Friday evening when I ran into two news reports that I thought were very interesting. Microsoft showed up at their Professional Developers Conference in LA with a half-baked presentation about Internet Explorer 9 that just happened to make press the day before Google announced the release of Google Chrome OS as open source code. Is this a coincidence or an emergency reaction to the realization that Chrome OS could be a very serious threat?
Internet Explorer 9
On Wednesday, Microsoft announced a significant re-investment in Internet Explorer. After just three weeks of development, they are talking about Internet Explorer 9 and its new features. When I read the announcement, I didn't think it said much so I was wondering why it was that Microsoft was in such a hurry to get what I thought was a very half-baked announcement out there.
The crux of the news is that Internet Explorer 9 is going to contain some significant enhancements to the way that it uses hardware and this should make it perform much better. It is also going to be far more standards-compliant, and we're not just talking Microsoft standards, if Steven Sinofsky is to be believed.
My take was that if I could just get it to stop crashing, that would be a good start. All the problems I have had with Internet Explorer have resulted in me installing virtually every browser out there, including Safari, FireFox, Opera, and, more recently, Google Chrome. Actually, IE8 is much better now on Windows 7, but I have been fishing for something else for a while.
Google Chrome Browser
Yes, for those of you that are not aware of it, Google has its own browser, too, called Google Chrome, and it is available for all Windows platforms. There have been 30 million downloads of the software and I have been using it now for quite a while. It works well on Windows 7, too.
Actually, Chrome is my favorite browser, largely because it works with everything and it is much faster than any of the others. The pages on my DSL line at home are there instantly. I have not found anything that Chrome does not do… very well.
Google Chrome OS
The reason Chrome is so interesting is because of Google's announcement in July that it was entering the Operating System market. Google firmly believes that the future of computing is in the cloud. Their operating system, to be named Chrome OS, is intended to run on netbooks and the Chrome Browser is intended to be the interface that is used to do everything. Applications will be hosted in the Chrome Browser as web apps, and the operating system will be free and open source.
On Thursday, Google released the code for Chrome OS as open source and announced more information about it. It's being based on Linux and will be released to consumers a year from now. From the post, Google is trying to address 3 issues with Chrome OS:
- Simplifying user experience by making everything a web app and avoiding the need for users to have to install and manage programs;
- Improve security by running everything inside the Chrome browser; and
- Significantly improve performance by improving startup speed to a matter of seconds.
Is Chrome OS Already Tarnished?
Tom Krazit of CNET attended the announcement meeting and posted a detailed account of the meeting. One aspect of his post raised some concerns. According to Krazit, Google is going to specify components for Chrome OS netbooks and existing netbooks will not work. Furthermore, Chrome OS will not run on hard drives; it needs solid state drives. That means that you can forget running Chrome OS on your existing notebook.
Bottom line: You have to buy a brand new netbook to run Chrome OS.
In this economy, Google expects us to go out an buy new hardware to run their OS when many of us have gone through upgrade processes recently to support Vista/Windows 7? That makes no sense. My kids, my wife and I would all probably switch to Chrome OS on netbooks if it was supported on existing hardware. We are all at least 3 years from buying new hardware so Chrome OS will have to wait.
Of course… I will get a new netbook with Chrome OS because I am a technology junky, but my point is that I don't believe the market can bear this right now.
The Timing of Microsoft's Announcement
I started out this post talking about Internet Explorer 9 and how I thought Microsoft's announcement is half-baked. They showed up at their Professional Developers Conference in LA and Steven Sinofsky was demonstrating IE9 without the normal fanfare that is associated with a new product launch.
It was only when I read Tom Krazit's post that it suddenly dawned on me why this was so important. Microsoft is still on its heels with the internet. Microsoft never took the internet seriously when it first started because they never saw it as a viable mechanism for making money. They woke up to that late in the 90s and built Internet Explorer to fight Netscape because they saw Netscape as a potential threat to their dominance on the desktop.
Remember: Microsoft makes money out of two products: 1) Windows and 2) Office. Everything else is chump-change, comparatively speaking. Threaten Windows or Office revenue, and Microsoft has serious worries.
Google is not just threatening Windows with Chrome OS; They are also threatening Office. If their operating system will store everything remotely and all apps are web apps, Microsoft has a serious problem if Chrome takes off.
Google made it clear in July that this announcement would be coming. They also indicated they were communicating with partners about hardware. Microsoft has to be worried because no one there thought that Google would still be a serious internet company in 2010, but Google is very much there, and growing, albeit much more slowly than earlier.
The fact that Chrome OS is going to require new hardware is exactly the reason that Microsoft made what is going to prove to be a very, very important move. If IE9 is able to do all that Steven Sinofsky says it will, especially in terms of the standards compliance, Google could be in trouble. At least with IE9 I will be able to use my existing machine. With Chrome OS, I have to buy new hardware. Microsoft may just have been given the Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card it needs. You can bet they will use this time to get ahead and Google will be left playing catch-up.