- 9 Jul 09, 16:20 GMT
Yesterday, as news emerged of Google's plans for a lightweight operating system for netbooks, I immediately began receiving messages from people telling me that this was not a story.
In particular, the Linux community - and I apologise for doubting in yesterday's post whether they are a community - seemed united in hostility to the idea that the Chrome OS was anything new.
Well, on the whole I'm glad that we ignored that, but it's worth reflecting on whether the whole story was as significant as it first seemed.
Google's new Linux-based operating system is only taking on Windows in one relatively small area, netbooks, and even there it's becoming clear that success is far from guaranteed.
I've been speaking to two firms planning to work with Google on the Chrome OS, one very cautious about its prospects, the other more enthusiastic.
The first, an executive from a netbook manufacturer who did not want to be named, said early hopes that customers for new small web-centred computers would embrace Linux had been dashed. "The market is now about 96% Windows," he told me. "Every manufacturer will admit that demand for Windows-based notebooks has far outstripped that for Linux."
He told me that customers wanted a familiar interface, and were worried about whether Linux would work with devices like mobile broadband USB dongles. "Linux just can't invest in that kind of compatibility," he told me. But he was encouraged by Google's ambitions: "If they can overcome those compatibility problems, bring in a user-friendly interface, then I think people will be interested."
Then I spoke to Ian Drew, vice-president for marketing at the British chip designer ARM whose processors are in many of the world's smartest mobile phones. He was much more excited about Chrome - which isn't surprising as ARM has been invited, along with Intel, to work on the operating system.
I asked him why customers would be any more inclined to desert Windows for Chrome than they had been to move to other flavours of Linux. He drew parallels with the smartphone world:
"If we'd had this conversation three years ago you'd have said nobody was going to beat Nokia Symbian - then Apple comes along with an innovative user interface and Google comes along with another. If things are designed that are easy to use and innovative and the right price, then there's room in the market."
He felt that familiarity with Google - and its reputation for usability - would give it a better chance than unknown Linux variants of winning customers. But he warned it wouldn't be easy, and that the new OS would have to be innovative:
"It can't just be seen as a replacement for Microsoft, it has to be seen to be x times different."
What struck me from both conversations is how rapidly the world is changing - the netbook market didn't exist a couple of years ago - yet how conservative consumers remain.
So Google's Chrome OS was big news in that it reflected the shift away from the desktop and into the cloud, but convincing people that they want to be part of that world is still going to be quite a challenge.
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