As predicted here and here, Google has announced its new Chrome operating system project.

In a blog post that indirectly pokes fun at Microsoft OS’s perceived instability and short shelf life, Google are trying to endear themselves to the public with their embracing of the open source community and clear functional ideals (“it should just work,” they say).

With all the anti-Microsoft sentiments surrounding Vista and the anti-monopoly debacle surrounding its European launch of Windows 7, Redwood is having a tough time of late – a tough time that the modest success of Bing probably isn’t going to help all that much.

But be warned. There is a certain limit to what a desktop-bound God can do. If Google takes total monopoly of the cloud, there will be no limit to what they could do. And I for one find it a little unsettling.

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Does Microsoft know what it’s doing with Service Oriented Architecture (SOA)?  Despite some half-hearted moves, it has seemed very reluctant to embrace Software as a Service (SaaS) and SOA.

According to Jason Hiner:

It’s easy to forget that when Microsoft launched Windows XP it was actually trying to change its OS business model to move away from shrink-wrapped software and convert customers to software subscribers. That’s why it abandoned the naming convention of Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows 2000, and instead chose Windows XP.

The XP stood for “experience” and was part of Microsoft’s .NET Web services strategy at the time. The master plan was to get users and businesses to pay a yearly subscription fee for the Windows experience — XP would essentially be the on-going product name but would include all software upgrades and updates, as long as you paid for your subscription. Of course, it would disable Windows on your PC if you didn’t pay. That’s why product activation was coupled with Windows XP.

Microsoft released Windows XP and Office XP simultaneously in 2001 and both included product activation and the plan to eventually migrate to subscription products. However, by the end of 2001 Microsoft had already abandoned the subscription concept with Office, and quickly returned to the shrink-wrapped business model and the old product development model with both products.

The idea of doing incremental releases and upgrades of its software — rather than a major shrink-wrapped release every 3-5 years — was a good concept. Microsoft just couldn’t figure out how to make the business model work, but instead of figuring out how to get it right, it took the easy route and went back to an old model that was simply not very well suited to the economic and technical realities of today’s IT world.

Blinkered

Blinkered

Despite the fact that they’ve no problem with shoving any manner of horror down our throats (User Account Control, anyone?) Microsoft has shied away from taking the lead in SOA and instead shuffled backwards after it attempted to prime the market with XP; it’s taken what it must have considered to be the “soft option”.

They’ve forgotten how to be innovative. And worse, Vista is a reaction to perceptions that were outdated before it was even released.

Vista is vulnerable and Google have sensed it – this has to be the reason why they’re pushed out Chrome onto the market.  The real idea behind it is this: when web services are adopted by the mainstream they will be able to use Chrome essentially as a web-based operating system within an operating system.  If we are looking for the perfect way to introduce a more service-based architecture, browsers are the key:

1) They’re familiar to the user;

2) They can be used as an Operating System as a Service painlessly, with users paying for the service on a rolling basis through advertising.  In this respect Google are the only players who’ve really nailed user-friendly advertising, with their low-key targeted ads.

As the ubiquitous operating system and browser provider, Microsoft had the chance to implement real change and blew it twice – once with Vista and again with IE7.  Changing the OS may have been a little bit of a gamble, but just like the dead Vista has proved, people would have been happy to “upgrade” to XP… Vista is a lame duck and represents a gamble that Microsoft bottled out of.  The horribly innacurately named Vista (I think “Blinkered” is more fitting) should have been the next stage of SaaS, aimed squarely at enterprise, while XP was still relatively new.

SOA is a destructive technology and Microsoft needs to take a pre-emptive strike.  Unfortunately, it won’t have the luxury of buying up upstart competitors because… well, because the main upstart seems to be Google, who are not so small and won’t sell.

September’s Information Age brings into sharp focus the real power of Google’s new internet browser, Google Chrome.  The bottom line is, what’s truly different about this browser is that it’s custom-built to support Software-as-a-Service.  Faster browsing, nice user interface… meh.  These are just accoutrements to the SaaS powerhouse that Chrome’s been designed to be.

Googles Eric Schmidt - profile at Sydney Morning Herald

Google's Eric Schmidt - profile at Sydney Morning Herald

Chrome will directly challenge Microsoft as a platform for powerful industrial apps

-Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt

As such, Google and Microsoft are yet again set to go head-to-head, but in a market more important than internet browsers; how they fare will shape the future of both the Internet and how people use software.

Eric Schmidt said in a recent FT interview: “Microsoft has a history of favouring its own applications and I can give you 500,000 pages of court testimony, document weblogs and so forth and so on about that.”  So, the browser is clearly designed to prevent the company from being sidelined by Microsoft.

Microsoft has thus far only made tentative steps into the SaaS arena with its half-licence, half-SaaS “Software+Services” fudge.  Google, on the other hand, has its head firmly in the clouds with its SOA apps, gathering enough useful data from people’s mail and search history to give it a competitve advantage over Microsoft.

How Google does with its Chrome browser could be central to the the advancement of SaaS – let’s hope it doesn’t stay in Beta for the next twenty years like Gmail looks set to be.

Read the full story here.