Google’s Chrome OS: Dead Before Arrival?

Last week, Google showed off its progress on Chrome OS, introduced an apps store in support of it, and offered up a pre-release hardware trial program (real machines won’t ship until mid-2011). But it’s likely all for naught. Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s objective of making Chrome OS a “viable third choice” in operating systems looks doomed.

Limited Functionality, Limited Appeal

Right now, the hot trends in technology are social, real-time, mobile and cloud computing. Chrome OS is only optimized for one of them; its machines are true cloud clients. There’s nothing in Chrome OS or its user interface that accommodates social media or real-time information feeds. Schmidt even evoked the old Network Computer vision. Chrome OS computers will be highly dependent on the cloud for applications and minimally functional when disconnected. They’ll have cellular modems, but it’s not clear that existing networks can handle the network traffic demands of a cloud-centric client.

Problematic Positioning

Chrome OS also suffers from awkward positioning: both externally, to developers and potential customers, and internally within Google’s own product line-up. While it’s true that PCs serve both companies and consumers, the value of the Network Computer premise appeals only to enterprise IT managers. Its manageability and simplified functionality play best in applications like airline reservations, point-of-sale terminals and ATMs, or in limited-application mobile devices used in shipping and store inventory management. Yet at least for now, app stores are purely consumer offerings. The apps Google showed last week came from media companies (New York Times, NPR, Sports Illustrated), Electronic Arts, and Amazon.

Where Are Google’s Real Opportunities?

Meanwhile, Google itself says Android will be its primary tablet operating system. In fact, Google aims Android at most of the best opportunities to establish new or alternative operating systems. I’d argue that there are three product categories where Google could try to establish a new OS platform, either with Android or Chrome OS. I discuss these in more detail in my weekly update at GigaOM Pro.

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