It had to happen, Google is releasing an OS. Their target is netbooks, small low-cost (and power) computers for those wanting something a bit bigger then a smartphone and smaller then a laptop.

Is this going to change my life ? Well probably not, much like Chrome, it will end up occupying the curiosity section at the back of the shop doomed to obscurity.

The key aspect of this OS is the idea that it will get you up and on the web in seconds, as “the operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web” (Sundar Pichai, vice-president of product management, and Google’s engineering diector Linus Upson). We’ll leave the fact that an operating system has nothing whatsoever to do with the web.

Bear in mind that Google’s key plan is to get their grubby mitts on all your data, be it email, docs, video, contacts, whatever. Whatever is information, they want it. With it they can keep making money via AdSense/AdWords. If they know your hobbies then they’ll want you to know about people out there who can help you with them.

This has remarkably little to do with an OS and yet I feel deja-vu coming on. Remember IE4 anyone ? Or Windows 98 ? The Active Desktop ? The idea that we were always permanently connected to the ‘net ? Isn’t that a Sun marketing slogan ?

The idea isn’t new, so will it stick this time ?

The main thrust I can see from all this is that Google is building a better VNC, all your applications are in their house, and your netbook (with Chrome OS!) is just a gateway to them. But here is the question, on the eve of the launch of a service that has gathered millions of mobile numbers without notifying their “customers”, do you really want everything you have on the web, and then – in the hands of someone else ?

Even if that isn’t a primary concern to you, the other key challenges to Chrome are simply the technical ones, unless they are going to emulate Apple, they will have to support the myriad of devices and drivers out there. If they do manage this, they may then still have to persuade people to develop for them. I do wonder if we are about to see someone overreach themselves. In the commercial world, this isn’t going to make a dent. In the netbook market it’s still interesting to note the lack of impact of Linux, and the fact that XP was preferred simply because it was familiar and ran all the applications important to the users.

Where am I going with this ? Well here is the main problem, building a “new” desktop/netbook OS in this day and age is going to be a thankless and expensive task. You’ll need to cover: Hardware Support, and have Applications built for you. You’ll need testing, for all the devices that you do (or do not support). You need a user base, for whom you offer something that they either can’t get somewhere else, or that you do better. You can also produce yet another distribution of Linux, in an already fragmented market. Somewhere you’ll also need cash to build this platform and the willingness of people to invest in building for a new target platform. While Google ticks many of the boxes, it does strike me as more of an academic rather then a commercial exercise to do this. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.