Chrome, Android, Chicago and NT: Google is looking more and more like Microsoft

9 Jul

As a long time Web/tech guy and a 9 year Microsoft vet, my first reaction to the Google Chrome OS announcement was “feels like I’ve seen this before”. In fact, Microsoft famously created and managed two parallel operating systems with an overlapping audience back in in the 90s. The first, Windows NT, had its roots in DEC’s venerable VMS system, and was originally designed by Dave Cutler. The second, Windows ‘9x (codename Chicago) evolved out of the DOS/Windows 3.x codebase. In the 1990s, the teams developing these systems developed a famous and intense rivalry – arguably distracting them from their real mission and costing the company millions of dollars in lost productivity. NT was first released in 1993 as an enterprise grade operating, and from then until the release of Windows XP in 2001, the development team worked in parallel to a consumer OS team. Given that there was significant scope overlap between the two teams, there are stories of intense battles between them for predominance and to earn the right to form the basis for the convergence between the consumer and enterprise products. As it turns out the NT group won out, culminating in Windows XP, which was actually Windows NT 5.1, sending Windows 9x to the dustbin of history after over a decade of development.
You could argue that Google’s two OSs are fundamentally different: Android targets mobile devices, Chrome OS targets PCs. However, in my mind this distinction is not 100% clear. What about Netbooks? What about other larger devices to come that converge high speed wireless data and voice with keyboards and larger screens. Google would be wise to learn a lesson from the Microsoft experience and ensure that their two Operating System teams focus on competing with their real competition, not with each other.

2 Responses to “Chrome, Android, Chicago and NT: Google is looking more and more like Microsoft”

  1. François Villeneuve July 9, 2009 at 8:37 pm #

    Two points:
    1) There was no real outside competition to Windows ‘9x as a graphical interface sitting atop MS-DOS. I don’t know if there was any competition to NT in the enterprise space, although my guess would be that NT was a big player at large companies, and that a lot of smaller companies used Windows ‘9x. What often happens when competitive entities face no outside competition is that they often turn their aim at themselves, for example Western Conservatives and the Progressive-Conservative Party while it was in power, leading to the foundation of Reform, and as a direct consequence, Paul Martin’s wing against the Liberal Party. So that’s pretty much what happened here. If OS/2 or MacOS or

    2) This doesn’t apply because Google is not actually trying to compete with Microsoft yet; it’s throwing spaghetti on the wall and trying to see what will stick.

    3) Finally, you missed the larger point: “Google/Chrome OS” will be irrelevant. 🙂
    Case in point:
    a) Chrome. Who uses that? Before they think of building an OS on it, they should focus on growing its market-share, at least at the level of firefox 🙂 Otherwise the attraction won’t quite be there.
    b) There already is a free operating system that’s Web-focussed, known as Ubuntu, and it failed to maintain its share in the netbook market, the place where it had the best chance to live.
    c) This Chrome OS seems to rely on the premises that it will be successful because it can deliver online services better. But online services will always have a latency problem as long as the internet is structured as it is right now. Some services which are inherently online in nature (email, social networking) can do well as “web services” (e.g. gmail as an email client) but even a low-bandwidth service like Twitter uses desktop apps. So I really don’t understand what’s so special about this OS that Google thinks it will accomplish. I mean it’s not like there’s something inherent to Windows right now that is shackling Chrome and would make its performance an order of magnitude better than Firefox. So really, I think this is another silly side project Google is working on, trying to expand beyond their current cashcow. We both know another company that’s been working for years trying to expand beyond its traditional cash cows, and it’s still struggling to do so… Although it’s had more success than Google so far.

  2. Stephane Handfield July 9, 2009 at 11:33 pm #

    Chrome OS will first target Netbooks and Google jump into OS market is just normal. You’re right when you write about Google taking the MS path, their bet is to change the way we use a PC, just like MS 20 years ago. All their technology is based on the concept of ressources virtualisation. In 70’s/80’s the internet make the first step by making virtual the access of informations, at that time we mostly use a PC ( a terminal with his own processing power ) to access informations elsewhere. The PC grow up and the technology permit more power and more local informations storages. MS take care of giving us a simple OS to manage locally all of this. What exactly a PC at that time? A land with his own knowledge doing a lot of works but communicating with a telegraph.

    Google vision is ressources sharing and distribution, strangely a PC in a near future will look more like a 70’s terminal than a PC in 90’s… we’ll minimize the job of the PC at dealing with the human, a fancy human interfaces and push ressources management to distributed computing ressources factory.

    Internet2.0 ? a scalable virtual mainframe 🙂 Google goal is not the OS itself it’s to become this virtual ressources factory… all web applications which will run on Chrome OS, will run on Windows, Mac and Linux too 🙂 It,s not an attack against MS, they attack all the PC industry…

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