Google Chrome OS: The biggest problem is that people want Windows

Google's new operating system is going to have a tough time being accepted. The terrible truth is that people want Windows

Jason Jenkins Director of content / EMEA
Jason Jenkins is the director of content for CNET in EMEA. Based in London, he has been writing about technology since 1999 and was once thrown out of Regent's Park for testing the UK's first Segway.
Jason Jenkins
3 min read

Google's announcement that it's to release its own PC operating system next year may seem like it heralds the end of Microsoft as we know it, but Google's real challenge isn't to design software that's fast, secure, easy to use, exciting and generally brilliant. That's the easy bit. The hard part will be convincing people they actually need it.

The truth is people want Windows. No, they really do. Let's look at Linux, which has been around in various forms for years and has a horde of highly vocal users, but is simply not mass-market.

You can tell me until you're blue in the face that Linux is more secure than Windows, that it's free, that I can do all the things with Linux I can do with Windows (and more), plus you get a bonus sense of moral superiority by using open-source software. I may even agree with you. But most general consumers, the people actually buying new PCs day-to-day, couldn't give a fig.

Ultimately, most people want what they're familiar with. They want to use Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office and to be able to get on with more important things in their lives, like voting in Britain's Got Talent.

Still not convinced? Let's look at the best chance Linux has had in recent years to break through into the mainstream -- netbooks. These were and are perfect for Linux, and the first ones that came out had perfectly decent, customised versions of said OS.

What happened? People complained that they couldn't install Office and they didn't understand how to use them. They wanted to know how to get Windows on to their new machines. Netbooks were seen as toys, not tools. It was only once the manufacturers responded with Windows versions that sales really skyrocketed. Now Asus, the company that started the netbook craze, has stopped offering Linux models in the UK, which says it all.

Admittedly, some of this aversion to anything other than Windows isn't down to consumer choice at all, but rather the close relationship Microsoft enjoys with the PC industry.

Manufacturers that have tried to sell a PC with anything other than Windows on it have experienced huge pressure from Microsoft to come back to its software. If Google is to win in this area, it's going to need to develop these key relationships that Microsoft has nurtured over 30 years.

Perhaps the big win for Google here isn't countries like the UK after all, but developing countries where computer ownership is still in its relative infancy. With no hard-to-break Windows habits and impenetrable computer industry, Google Chrome OS might achieve there what the OLPC was supposed to.

But if Google is determined to crack the Western world with its new OS it will need a smart, ubiquitous ad campaign along the lines of Apple's, plus a massive presence in shops such as PC World -- a Google area or something similar.

That will take money, and plenty of it. The question is whether Google is really serious about taking Microsoft on directly, or whether Google Chrome OS will turn out to be another one of the company's 'nice to have' products that simply bubbles along in the background.