When Google released Chrome last Fall, I wrote that it represented a direct attack on Microsoft and Apple. This week, my colleague Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols writes in ComputerWorld that Android could be coming to a Netbook near you by the end of this year. If this reports turns out to be true, Google will have taken the final step toward competing directly with its big rivals Microsoft and Apple on the desktop itself.

First a Browser

Last Fall when Google released Chrome, I was curious about why the world would need another browser. Google of course sees it as a way to optimize its own online applications within a totally Google experience. That sounds like a reasonable goal as far as it goes, especially when Google is trying to sell a package of apps in the enterprise. If you are paying to use Google Docs, it might make sense for you to run them on the Google browser. The next logical step would appear to be an operating system on which to run those apps.

Now the OS

When Google released Android back in November, 2007, the focus was squarely on the mobile phone, which is consistent with Google's understandable fascination with the growing smart phone market. But an operating system that runs on the phone doesn't necessarily have to be limited to that right? If you take that same operating system and move it to say a netbook computer, it could take the game to another level. Now, we move out of the realm of pure cloud computing and onto the desktop itself. Vaughan-Nichols writes that in fact, this plan has been hard-coded into Android's DNA (so to speak):

What would a Linux-based phone operating system be doing on the desktop? Running it, perhaps. You see, Matthäus Krzykowski and Daniel Hartmann, founders of start-up Mobile-facts, discovered late last year that Android has two product policies in its code. Product policies, they explained, are instructions in an operating system aimed at specific uses. Android's two policies are phones and MIDs (mobile Internet devices). You probably know MIDs by their more popular name: netbooks.

You Better Watch Out!

When you begin to put the pieces together a clear picture emerges. It is abundantly clear that Google has plans that extend its reach far beyond the search market. It appears to want to want a piece of the desktop too. Eric Schmidt isn't stupid and he sees the growing netbook market, one that could be distributed by mobile phone carriers (as I witnessed was happening in Europe already on a trip to Germany last summer). If Vaughan-Nichols is right, we could be seeing an Android Netbook by the end of the year.

I'm sure the powers that be in Redmond and Cupertino are not exactly barricading themselves in their board rooms and heading to the ledge over this news, but they should be wary because it looks like Google is about to stake a claim directly in their desktop turf even while Microsoft makes its way into the cloud. Any way you slice it, the battle for world domination marches on.