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Google Struggles to Define Chrome OS as Launch Approaches

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Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) announced its Chrome OS operating system a year and a half ago, but it looks as if the company's executives are still wrapping their heads around its significance and potential. At least that's what I took away from a New York Times article about the OS.

Acer recently told Engdadget that it won't be releasing Chrome OS devices until 2011 but that Google has something up its sleeve for December of this year. The Times says that's when Google plans to release a Google-branded Chrome device, which will be manufactured by another company.

With the launch so close, you'd think Google would have a clear message about how the operating system fits into its product lineup, particularly since it has already has Android. At almost every Google press event involving Android and/or Chrome, someone will inevitably ask how Android stacks up against Chrome OS. At first, it seemed as if they were obviously different, since Android was developed for mobile phones while Chrome was built for netbooks. Still, Google has suggested that it wants to take both operating systems beyond their initial devices, for example with Android-based tablets.

Back in June, even Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) chief executive Steve Ballmer admitted confusion about Chrome vs. Android. Ray Ozzie, who was then the company's chief software architect, argued that Chrome was a bet on the future, because it's all about the Internet cloud, while Android is more old-fashioned.

Here's chief executive Eric Schmidt's latest attempt at an answer -- it's from the Times article, but it echoes statements he made at the Web 2.0 Summit last week:

"We don't want to call the question and say this one does one thing, this one does another. So far the model seems to be the Android solution is particularly optimized for things that involve touch in some form and Chrome OS appears to be for keyboard-based solutions."

That's one answer, I suppose, but it lacks the pizazz of Ozzie's visionary language, and it also doesn't have much to do with the initial pitch of Chrome as an operating system fully based in the cloud -- i.e., one where everything resides online and there are no applications or files on your computer -- suggesting that the keyboard bit is almost an afterthought.

Why the switch? I'm guessing that on the one hand, Google doesn't want to pitch Android as an anti-cloud operating system, and on the other hand, the company might have a hard time selling Chrome OS on the no-native-apps angle when app-dominated operating systems such as Android and Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iOS are on the rise. (At one point in the article, Google's Sundar Pichai said people's first impression to Chrome OS will be "it's just a browser,” to which he says, "exactly.")


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Google and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value choices. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of all three stocks. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. This article has been lightly edited. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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  • Report this Comment On November 27, 2010, at 1:30 PM, Henry3Dogg wrote:

    " Ray Ozzie, who was then the company's chief software architect, argued that Chrome was a bet on the future, because it's all about the Internet cloud, while Android is more old-fashioned"

    That's pure politics. Apple is Microsoft's problem and if you can be persuaded to see Android as old fashioned, then perhaps you will see iOS as old fashioned by implication.

    Trouble is that chrome is just another web browser closely integrated with an OS. Like say Windows XP. It may be good, maybe it's first rate, but what's future about that.

    All the evidence at the moment is that people are discovering that apps, many of which are tightly integrated with web or cloud services, give a much better user experience. Microsoft hasn't got it yet, so call it old fashioned.

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