Google's Chrome OS will soon challenge the software giant's stranglehold in the operating system market.
The online search giant may be a Goliath in cyberspace but it will be a David when it launches its Chrome operating system in the fourth quarter of this year. Microsoft's Windows OS(es) - XP,Vista and Windows 7 - control nearly 90 per cent of the desktop market worldwide, and almost 70 per cent of the enterprise market. Yet, analysts believe Google can crack this market with Chrome.
Google has always made Microsoft sit up and take notice. First with its search engine, which Microsoft is trying to catch up with using 'Bing'.
Then Gmail, which upset Microsoft's well entrenched Hotmail and Yahoo's email services. Google's web browser Chrome, too, has captured 8 per cent of the global web browser market. Microsoft's Internet Explorer, however, still has over 50 per cent market share with Mozilla Firefox coming second at a little over 30 per cent.
Six years ago, IE had nearly 90 per cent market share. In India, IE remains the leader, but Firefox and Chrome are gaining ground. IE9, believes Microsoft, may again change the tide in its favour. "The 'IE9 Preview Program' has been a big success - the IE9 Test Drive site has got more than 16 million visits, and the IE9 Platform Preview has been downloaded over two million times," notes a Microsoft India spokesperson.
What is Chrome OS?
It is a browser based operating system, based on Linux, which will be "fast and lightweight" to hook users on to the web "in a few seconds". Analysts believe the potential users of the Chrome OS will mainly be netbook users (the fastest growing segment of personal computers) who remain online for long periods of time and who want a web application like experience. This category of users may be techies, or users in the age group of 30 years and below, initially, and executives who travel frequently.
Analysts like Kamal Vohra, lead analyst, Software & Services Research Practice at IDC India, believe " since Chrome is a free OS, it is expected to result in reduced cost of hardware devices in the hands of end customers. So, attractively priced PCs during the festive season should be a great crowd puller for OEM brands".
When it announced its plans for the OS last July, Google says it was working with vendors like Acer, Asustek Computer, Hewlett Packard, Lenovo and Toshiba to have the OS bundled at the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) level. Dell has recently joined the bandwagon.
"A lot of backend work is going on and Google will not leave any stone unturned like it did with Anroid. It is a browser based OS and the Indian market has not been exposed to such an OS before. So, it will lead to a paradigm shift in the way it communicates with netbooks," says Diptarup Chakraborti, principal research analyst at Gartner.
Chief technology officers in the country have their own take. Subramanya C, Global CTO of Hinduja Global Solutions Limited, says: "For companies in the IT ITeS space, interoperability and compatibility of the applications can make the OS successful or otherwise. However, the wave around the launch of the Google OS is not big and if the investments have good ROIs, we will invest in it."
A Google India spokesperson declined to comment on Chrome OS. However, commenting on the Chrome browser, Vinay Goel, head of products, Google India, says: "India is one of the fastest growing markets for Chrome browser. It has many benefits over traditional browsers including increased speed and improved security. These benefits are particularly well suited to Indian web users where shared computers and low bandwidth are the norm."
"Microsoft is basically a desktop software company and has woken up to the threat. In fact, this is the first time that it is not able to overcome a threat unlike with Netscape and AOL," opines Chakraborti of Gartner.
Is Microsoft worried?
If the case is so, the wrinkles are not showing on the face since Microsoft has numbers on its side. Windows 7, for instance, has worked well for Microsoft. According to a Microsoft India spokesperson, over 150 million Windows 7 licenses have been sold worldwide. "In India, 90 per cent consumer PC shipments are on Windows 7 and over 150 Windows 7 PC SKUs are available in the market today. In the netbooks market, with a projected sales estimate of 58 million in 2010, Windows has strong traction with market share of 96 per cent in 2009 (Windows XP and Windows 7).
Research firm IDC, too, predicts around 177 million copies of the operating system will be in place by the end of 2010, and estimates that products and services surrounding Windows 7 will generate $320 billion.
"From an enterprise perspective, already, over 5,500 businesses across India have deployed Windows 7 and are realising significant cost savings and productivity benefits. These include Infosys, Maruti, Bangalore International Airport, L&T ECC, Wipro, Big Cinemas, Manipal University, Biocon, Malayala Manorama, Greenply Industries, MindTree, GMR Infrastructure Limited and NIIT," says the Microsoft spokesperson.
When asked to specifically comment on the Google Chrome OS, the spokesperson says: "We generally don't make specific comments on products we haven't seen. However, with two operating systems - Android and Chrome, the clear message here is that Google's strategy is an endorsement of Microsoft's Software plus Services strategy. We do believe that having two operating systems is a bit surprising."
Besides, Microsoft's stronghold in software lies in prominence of Windows as well as the ubiquity of Office. Businesses prefer Office applications and more businesses' custom apps are written for Windows. It also has a huge third party support system in place for training its business users and supporting business' applications plans based around Office. Moreover, enterprises take at least six months before they adopt a new OS or upgrade their OS. And most organisations need 12 to 18 months for planning, testing and piloting.
Last, but not the least, Microsoft is also, according to Helen J Wang (and other team members of Microsoft Research) working on Gazelle, "a secure web browser constructed as a multi principal OS". Should Gazelle turn out to be a suitable netbook OS, it could challenge the Chrome OS.
For Chrome to become successful as an OS, say analysts, it will need strong applications - a counterpart to the boost that Office gives Windows. Google, on its part, recently announced a web based app store that will feature free and paid apps. This is just the first step.