Google Netbook OS

The tubes are buzzing with the news that Google plan to launch their own operating system – which actually seems to be a thin veneer over a Linux kernel, solely for the purpose of running their Chrome web browser.

The addition of the Google name could do great things for the netbook world, but I’ve argued before that netbooks are too similar to notebooks for consumers to really appreciate why they can’t run their Windows applications on their Linux netbook, for example. This is leading to confusion and disappointment.

I can see three obvious ways out of this problem: education, hardware changes, and low prices.

Education: Quite simply people don’t really understand the difference between a netbook and a cheap notebook. Education – in the form of better adverts, promotions and training for sales staff – could do a lot to address this confusion.

Hardware Changes: Nobody expects to run Windows on their iPhone, or their DVD player, largely because these things don’t look like normal computers. Perhaps a radical enough revision of netbook hardware could convince consumers that it’s a different market segment entirely. But radical revisions are costly and risky – and therefore unlikely to happen in such a cut-throat market.

Low Prices: You don’t mind that your family car lacks the power of a Porsche, or that your house isn’t the size of a stately home because you paid less for them, and had lower expectations of their capabilities. People will forgive a lot of issues if prices are low enough (though, surprisingly, they seem to be less forgiving if things are free – just ask any desktop Linux vendor). Pitch a netbook at a low enough price and users will be less concerned about the fact that it doesn’t run Windows – but “low enough” starts at about half the current prices of netbooks, and heads downwards from there.

Perhaps Google’s OS will be lightweight and fast enough allow vendors to use slower hardware to get the price down… but I fear that vendors will instead try to sell at the same price, and simply use Google’s name to leverage additional profits out of their customers. I hope I’m wrong.