Microsoft (MSFT) makes a huge amount of its profit from its PC operating systems. Google (GOOG) plans to enter that business in earnest. The search company already offers certain applications for PCs that handle word-processing and spreadsheet functions. Its Android software for phones is a primitive operating system for handsets.
Google management, writing on a company blog, said it will start offering a complete operating system for low end PCs -- unwelcome news for Microsoft. The blog says "Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks." Chrome is Google's browser product. The product will take advantage of existing Linux technology. Linux is considered by many to be an open-source alternative to Windows.
Is the product really an alternative to Windows? Probably not. Most PC users want the complete set of features Windows has to offer, which makes it able to work on almost any PC and with the hundreds of hardware devices that attach to PCs. Microsoft controls the features of its OS. The Chrome browser will allow outside programmers to add code to its product. The Google OS will only work on the least powerful PCs, an area where Linux already has products. Microsoft does not want to lose this base, but people buying $399 netbooks are often not interested in Windows anyway because of its cost.
No one knows how long it would take to build an OS that would really compete with Windows. Probably years, many years. The Linux community has been working on it for over a decade and has made almost no progress.
It is not time for Microsoft to get worried.
Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St.