But follow the niche alpha geek adoption carefully.

As with anything Google does, opinion ranges from revolutionary to lackluster.  Personally, I think it’s too early to tell.  More importantly, I think the success of Chrome OS won’t be based on the success of version 1.0.  Google has the uncanny ability to generate and maintain interest even in the face of negative initial reviews.

Chrome OS will be limited to netbooks, and more importantly, new netbooks that Google approves. Chrome OS is theoretically competition for Windows and Linux which represent approximately 80% and 20% of the operating system market for netbooks.  But Windows and Linux on netbooks allow a degree of user freedom that Chrome OS doesn’t.  Users can store files, be it pictures, songs, videos, spreadsheets, etc. on the netbook.  These files can be loaded, edited and saved with or without a network connection.  Chrome OS on the other hand, requires a network connection to access user files which are stored in the Google cloud.  This will be an impediment to Chrome OS adoption by average netbook consumers.  Rational or not, the fear of needing to get at files “in the cloud” but not having a Wifi/3G connection will diminish the allure of a netbook that starts in under 7 seconds to regular users.

On the other hand, geeks will be chomping at the bits to pick up a Chrome OS netbook to try out during the 2010 holiday season.  Yes, the “geek” audience is without a doubt a niche market.  So it’s easy for Microsoft or Apple to write off Chrome OS.  But that’s a mistake. As John Gruber wrote in his excellent piece, “Microsoft’s Long, Slow Decline“:

“People who love computers overwhelmingly prefer to use a Mac today. Microsoft’s core problem is that they have lost the hearts of computer enthusiasts. Regular people don’t think about their choice of computer platform in detail and with passion like nerds do because, duh, they are not nerds. But nerds are leading indicators.”

Microsoft’s losses to Apple aren’t based on “regular people” choosing the Mac.  Rather, these “regular people” were encouraged to do so by the geeks in their lives who had made the switch to a Mac years ago.  Consumer technology vendors can ignore the alpha geek niche at their peril.

Truer words of caution couldn’t be said to Apple, Microsoft and Linux desktop vendors in the face of Google Chrome OS.

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

The hype around Google Chrome OS is palpable.  We all need to take a deep breath. In taking that deep breath, it becomes clear that Google has grown to become open source’s biggest foe while at the same time being one of open source’s biggest friends.  Confused? You should be.

Google helps the open source movement through its contributions to various open source projects, funding of open source summer development projects, open source conference sponsorships and simply by being a poster child for its internal use of open source.  Google also open sources elements of its product portfolio in an attempt to gain market acceptance for a given product.  Google Android, Google Chrome and later this year I should say, Google Chrome OS are examples of open sourcing to help drive adoption.  For these reasons, it’s easy to argue that Google is an open source friend.

But, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Google deserves the “foe” badge when we consider open source vendors and organizations that are at the forefront of the open source movement. The Google Chrome OS, while based on Linux, is directly competitive with offerings from Red Hat and Canonical and other Linux vendors targeting consumers.  Google Chrome is competitive with Firefox, Google Docs is competitive to OpenOffice.org and Google Apps is competitive with Zimbra.  This list is certain to grow down into the middleware stack, i.e. Google App Engine of the future, and up into the consumer applications stack with Google’s ambitions.

Don’t get me wrong, competition is great for users as it forces all vendors to raise their game.  However, we should not ignore the fact that Google has deftly become the largest threat to open source vendors, the same vendors who are driving open source adoption today.

When I woke to read an email about Google Chrome OS from an MBA friend, Asif, a light bulb went off about Google’s “foe” status.  Asif has forgotten more about world history and politics than I’ll ever learn, but he would never be accused of being a computer geek.  And yet, here he was sending me a link to the Financial Times story about Chrome OS.  He had never mentioned Ubuntu, Red Hat or any other open source entity to me in the past two years I’ve known him.  If regular consumers like Asif, who generally have a strong view of the Google brand, get behind Chrome OS, then the likes of Ubuntu and other Linux distro’s are in for a world of hurt; at least from a consumer angle.  But it won’t stop there.  As Google expands further into middleware and consumer applications, open source vendors that compete in these areas will have to compete against Google.  It’s one thing for an open source upstart to throw stones at Microsoft, Oracle, IBM or SAP and position themselves as being unlike those vendors.  But this strategy won’t work when competing against Google, a known “friend” of open source, and especially when Google has open sourced the competing product in question.  The “it’s closed source” argument won’t hold much weight.

Nobody ever accused MySQL of being an open source foe because it competes with PostgreSQL, so why is Google a foe just for competing with open source vendors? No open source vendor, by itself or in some informal collaboration, has the brand, reach, ability to execute, resources or level of customer preference that Google does.  The competition will be nowhere close to fair.  If Google wins against these individual open source vendors, the resulting Google stack will be much homogeneous than we’re accustomed to.  The choice that open source drives will be severely limited.  Open source will win and lose at the same time.

Note to self; don’t be surprised to receive an email from Asif in 5 years titled: “It’s a Google world; you’re just living in it. Enjoy.”

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”