It's interesting-though not surprising-that increasingly popular netbooks are in position to become a major flash point in the coming operating system battle between Google and Microsoft.
On July 7, Google announced the Google Chrome OS. eWEEK and scores of other sites and publications described what the company is doing: The Chrome OS, an extension of the browser of the same name, is built first and foremost for use on the Web. The company says that it will "open-source the code" and expects that netbooks using the OS will be available during the second half of next year.
Kevin Tofel at GigaOm puts the decision into perspective. He points out that squeezing OSes designed for the desktop into mobile devices has created a legacy of mobile products that don't get it quite right. A new approach in which the accepted design parameters include smaller screens, less processing power and limited energy supplies will lead to better functioning devices and happier end users. In other words, the limitations will be more manageable if they are imposed by the designers working within the technical limitations in mind rather than using an OS that actually is designed for a far easier environment.
Tofel's post isn't solely about the Chrome OS. He takes on the question of which OS has the best chance of dominating the netbook category. He's apparently a betting man, since he sets the odds each faces. Microsoft, he feels, is 4:1; Apple is 50:1; Intel's Moblin is 10:1; more broadly categorized Linux OSes are a collective 20:1; "Instant-On" Linuxes are 15:1 and Google is 3:2.
Of course, Microsoft and Google are two behemoths and what they do will have great impact on how the category eventually shakes out. As Tofel implies, the battle won't solely be between those two. PC World looks at what is changing in the world of quick-boot devices -- netbooks and others -- that quickly turn on applications such as e-mail and browsers without the full operating system. Somewhat along the same lines, the Sun Times' Andy Ihnatko discusses CrunchPad, a netbook-like concept with an operating system that offers support only for browsing.
The world is getting more mobile, and netbooks are a big part of that. It follows that operating systems optimized for this peripatetic world will proliferate. The involvement of Google certainly is a big step in that direction.