Gillette promised to redefine male grooming, Segway promised to change the world, and Opera promised to reinvent the Internet. But in the end they only broke our hearts. Surprise, surprise, everything they said was just a load of old marketing guff.
So forgive when I tell you that Google's Chrome OS will not change anything either. It won't have a significant impact on the desktop or netbook/notebook market. It won't cause Microsoft to lose any sleep or Steve Ballmer to do an amusing monkey dance. And it won't be just the break that Google needs to ... TAKE OVER THE WORLD!
No, it won't do any of these things, and here's why.
There are two types of computer users in the world. In one corner are the old fashioned sort of computer users. They do old fashioned sorts of things on their computers, like play games, write letters, and mess about with photos and videos. Some even sit in an office and get some work done using a so-called productivity suite (how's that for marketing guff? you might as well call a pen a productivity suite) or a corporate application of some type.
In the opposite corner are the Ajax-to-the-max, Web 2.0 kind of guys and gals who, as Google describes them, "live on the web searching for information, checking email, catching up on the news, shopping or just staying in touch with friends."
It's this second group at which Google's Chrome OS, running on netbooks, will be aimed. And will fail. Epically.
Now Google may not have noticed, but people who "live on the web" don't need a netbook. All they need is an iPhone, or any other type of smartphone that can do as a good a job of providing access to information, email, news, shopping and so on. Such devices are smaller, faster and always connected to the network. Why would they cart around a comparatively hefty netbook, with all the connectivity complications it brings, when the smartphone in their pocket can adequately do the job?
In fact, the idea of carting around a Chrome OS powered netbook gets more ludicrous the more you think about it. These netbooks are supposed to run web-based applications. Could these be the same web-based applications that iPhone users turned their noses up at and rejected in droves, forcing Apple to reconsider this approach and allow the development of third-party apps? This, as it turns out, is the strength of iTunes' App Store, and it's a direct conduit for the iPhone's positioning as the smartphone of choice for Web 2.0 types (and everyone else as well). Thus, people who live on the web don't want to actually live on the web at all.
So let's face it: Netbooks may be called netbooks, but in reality they are just poor man's notebooks. The original netbooks came with Linux OSes that were quite capable of providing even the most unsophisticated users with access to Facebook, gmail, and so on. But now practically all netbooks are supplied with Windows XP, and soon that will be Windows 7. Why? Because people don't want to live on the web on them. They want to use them as cheap laptops to run Word on them. Or Excel. Or whatever.
By the time Chrome OS finally sees the light of day, in 2010 or so, the iPhone will be even better, and there will be plenty of decent alternatives. And guess what? When you want to check your email, it's one of these phones you'll whip out. Not some absurd Chrome OS netbook.
Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.