As you know, Google proceeded with the second announcement of its Chrome OS this past week, the first one took place on July 7th, 2009, and the ship date being a year away, we can be sure to have more launch events: one of the first beta, a couple more for applications and partnerships agreements before the Big One, in time for the 2010 Holidays shopping season. So goes our industry and its posturing ways.

Did we learn something new?

On the product itself, not really. On Google’s intentions, official or real, a little bit more or, as you’ll see, perhaps a tad less.

In two past Monday Notes, “Chrome-Plated Linux or Microsoft 2.0” and “Trojan Horse: Web Apps”, we discussed the product itself, Google’s Chrome browser sitting on a Linux-derived OS kernel and, more important, Google’s goal: killing the Microsoft earnings engine with a new generation of mixed-mode productivity applications displacing Office.

As we know, most of Microsoft’s earnings and cash generation (“only” $5B in additional cash for the past year) come from the Windows + Office + Exchange triad.
We know Google’s Web apps such as Documents, Presentation and Spreadsheets. There, for Microsoft, the most dangerous part is something called Google Gears or Offline mode on our PCs and Macs. For example, Gmail can work off-line, with a local copy of your mail; when the connection is restored, everything syncs back with the Cloud. The idea isn’t new, Microsoft’s Outlook has been providing such a dual on-line/off-line arrangement for years, it’s called the Cache mode.
This, meaning dual-mode Google Apps, is the Microsoft Office killer and, as a result, the end of the Microsoft money machine.

In theory. The rest, as we like to joke, is a “mere matter of implementation”.

On that subject, that is how Chrome OS and its applications will do in the marketplace, last week’s disclosures left some of us puzzled.

The OS kernel itself looks well thought out. It is said to boot fast and to be very secure, same thing for the browser, one we’ve seen already on PCs, spartan, a good restart from the feature accumulation we’ve seen on Explorer or even Firefox.

The problems really start to creep in with the applications, the open source nature of the project and hardware manufacturers. I’ve been using Google Apps for a while and, besides Google’s horrible contacts management, I don’t have complaints.
But…
I watch what the animal does. Forget the neocortex, it’s vastly overrated. Does the dog come back to the dog food? Here, do I really use Google Apps on a daily basis? No, my word processor(s) come with many features I don’t use, creeping featuritis, but they also offer tools I can’t really get from a Web app, such as (somewhat) integrated dictionary and thesaurus, in two languages, page layout capabilities, integration with website creation tools, flexible output formats… The same is true for presentation programs, be they PowerPoint of Keynote and spreadsheets.
To be fair, Google’s Office Apps keep making good progress, see this page of new and improved features, some of which, such as translation, can’t be found elsewhere.

The open source arrangements for Chrome OS are another source of questions. On the surface it’s all sweetness and light. Who can be against open source? But applications, Google’s and third parties’ need a reliable foundation on which to operate. In theory, a netbook maker can “differentiate” itself as it pleases. Will this babelize Chrome OS?
Google execs say they’ll “work” with hardware makers, without offering much more than a genuflecting concern for the “quality of the end-to-end experience”. Combining the benefits open source with those of Apple’s muscular enforcement.
Still on open source, there could be cultural confusion at work, here. When it comes to servers inside the company, open source works really well as the implementer modifies Linux or other open source code for the hardware under its control. Compatibility issues are manageable. But once the hardware is “out there”, compatibility can become intractable.

More tentativeness or equivocation: We’ll start with netbooks, but we’d like them with a bigger screen, and we might eventually migrate to desktops. And, while we’re at it, we might merge Chrome OS and Android.

Never mind that the application have totally different APIs, Android runs a form of Java while Chrome OS uses HTML derivatives. A great way to fall into featuritis, at best or, at worse, a revealing glimpse into Google’s unsettled thought processes.

Perhaps Google is managing expectations, avoiding overly grandiose public goals while feverishly working behind the scenes on all the pesky bits. That would be a good idea, promise less and deliver more. But, eventually, Google will have to come out and tell us the Microsoft Office vs. Google Apps story. Imagine, in Apple “I’m a Mac” ads fashion, Google commercials: “I’m Chrome, You’re Rust”…

A few links below (If you Google “Chrome OS”, you get 47 million results…):

Gizmodo’s “Everything You Need To Know” guide
Ars Technica’s take on Chrome OS

A negative view from Econsultancy.

JLG@mondaynote.com

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