I have to admit that the Google OS announcement bothered me a bit. I was not concerned about the level of coverage it received, but it just felt that there was something missing. An OS announcement with limited details, and everyone wondering where Android fit with it, just felt wrong. Google is hiding something. Why do I say this? Well, operating systems are more of a commodity these days, even mobile operating systems. There is very little money to be made by selling an operating system, and Google has stated it will be open source as well. The only real reason to be creating an operating system is to leverage it into various applications.
We all know that Google has Google Docs and has been trying to promote that as a cheap and readily available version of an office suite. However, there has always been something missing from the suite of applications. We have GMail, and Google Calendar, and the addition of Tasks. I remember asking why they would create a Tasks application when so many good options existed. Because the various applications are still somewhat disjointed, and the announcements have come at all sorts of times, I had only one brief moment of insight which I totally forgot about yesterday.
Let me put all the stories we have heard in the past 6 or 9 months together with what we know so far. Google Docs is Google’s lightweight answer to Microsoft Office. It is incomplete in comparison. GMail gets offline access and shortly after adds the Tasks feature. We also have Chrome, the browser, which allows you to create a shortcut on the desktop that makes online applications look almost like a desktop application. Now we have Chrome OS which really makes the browser as close to an operating system as we have seen. To top it all off, Google recently hid the standard edition of Google Apps, later apologized for it and put a tiny link for it under the big signup button for the paid edition. Last but not least is Google Wave, which many screenshots have shown looks somewhat similar to Microsoft Outlook.
By now, you should see where I am going with this. ChromeOS is Google’s way of getting a platform for their future cash cow, Google Apps. Microsoft Office has been raking in the money for years, and Google wants a piece. The main reason for this success is that Microsoft always had an advantage over other office suite competitors, they owned the platform. Google is trying to give away the platform so that they can focus on generating tons of revenue with Google Apps. There is a huge whole that they can fill with small businesses. Small businesses do not want to pay for the various licenses of Microsoft Office and Microsoft Exchange. They also do not want to pay for the salaries required to maintain the various servers in that infrastructure. With Google Apps, we have a very reasonable subscription of $50 per year per user. This is for an office suite and a mail server, all of which you never have to install or administer.
This is a plan to go after the heart of Microsoft’s business. Even if Microsoft releases an MS Office in the cloud as some are speculating, Microsoft is almost considered the underdog on the internet. Unless the Office release is free and utterly fantastic, people will consider it a failure. The stakes are high with the online office suites, and Microsoft does not have a good history of implementing services on the internet. We are in for a good fight, and that typically means lots of new features and innovation. Regardless of which company wins, this likely means that we, the users, are the ones that really win.