At the end of May, Computerworld reported that Asus, one of the early Netbook success stories had all but given up on Linux Netbooks. This was telling because the Asus Eee (of which I own one) has a very nice, simple-to-navigate interface. It starts up fairly quickly and has long battery life, but even the simple tabbed interface was apparently too hard for users raised on Windows. It got me thinking, if this simple version of Linux failed, how will Google's Chrome OS, inspired by Linux fare any better?
Linux is a Tough Sell
Even though it will carry a Google Chrome OS label, at its core, it will be Linux. Nothing wrong with that, but consumers have rejected that proposition before. Just because it carries Google's name is no guarantee that consumers will embrace it any more than they did on other attempts to package desktop Linux.
I also own an HP Mini running Windows XP. It has all of the issues you would expect with a Windows machine.
It starts up slowly. It hangs for no reason. It eats battery surprisingly quickly. My Asus Eee on the other hand running Linux is rock solid. It has occasional issues, but for the most part runs fairly well. Yet people seem to trust the devil they know. They are more comfortable with Microsoft Windows for whatever reason and I'm not sure even Google's brand name is going to change that.
Look at the Phone Market
When Android came out everyone was sure an open source phone OS with Google's backing would take the market by storm, but the first offering, the G1, was nothing to write home about and so far at least no phone running the Google Android OS seems to have captured the imagination of the cell phone buying public in a big way like say the iPhone or the Palm Pre have. Just because Google has put a lot of time and effort into developing Android and put its good name behind it, it still has struggled to this point to find a substantial market share.
All That Glitters is Not Gold
This proves that everything Google touches doesn't necessarily turn to gold. Many people may see this as Google's ultimate attempt at world domination, but it may be nothing more than another experiment by a company that has never been afraid to try new things. If it works, it gives them more control of our computing lives than they probably ever imagined, but if it fails they still dominate search, which is after all their core competency.
One aspect of this I find interesting is that it seems people are rooting for Bing because they want a check on Google and people seem to want to believe Chrome OS will challenge Windows because they want a check on Microsoft.
Regardless of what people want, the market will determine if there is room for a Google operating system, and if there is, if it presents any more of a challenge to Microsoft's desktop dominance than Bing poses to Google's search dominance.