So Google are developing an Operating System. Interesting move although not entirely surprising. Even less surprisingly this OS will be heavily web based in a step towards cloud computing.
Cloud computing is the concept where the bulk of information, storage and processing power is stored on/provided by remote servers rather than in the box under your desk, therefore the computer becomes a portal to services provided by the remote server rather than the service provider in its own right. This gives the potential benefit of lower hardware requirements and thus cheaper to the consumer.
Google already has some infrastructure in place towards the cloud computing model - its web apps. This entry is being written on a word processor, not MS Word, not OOO Writer, but on Google Docs which I can use via my web browser without the need to install or open any other programs and without doubling my RAM usage by opening a dedicated program. The Google OS is being built entirely with these web apps in mind - optimised entirely for accessing online services. This should allow the OS to be enormously streamlined as few concessions will have to be made for other software.
Some of the web apps I've used are stunningly impressive, but most aren't as functional, stable or fast (after start-up) as their locally installed brethren. The fact that the OS will be optimised for this will probably nullify the speed and stability issues, but Google will have to advance Google Docs significantly to make it as functional as Word or Writer (Writer particularly due to the free status of OOO).
Googles current roster of web apps bears some conspicuous gaps and it'll be interesting to see how they intend to plug them. Perhaps the most important of these missing apps are those relating to multimedia. If google are aiming for a true cloud computing model they may offer online storage for media which could then be streamed directly to your computer. The obvious drawback there is that when there's no internet connection available or if you're connection hits one of those slow bumps we all get from time to time then you're left without access to your media. Furthermore there'd be the long slow slog of uploading your collection to Google servers. The more obvious solution would be for them to whip up some sort of browser interface that acts as a typical media library with media stored locally on the computer. Another possible (but probably unlikely) solution would be for Google to partner with or start its own streaming service similar to spotify. The drawback there being that Google would be unlikely to secure every single track its userbase would be likely to want, therefore not really providing a satisfactory replacement to ones own locally stored collection.
Google also lacks any proper online image manipulation toolset. There are several non-Google free web apps out there which are pretty damned good (try sumopaint and splashup, pretty good if you ask me). It's not beyond the realms of possibility that Google will be working on a web app of their desktop program Picasa to plug this gap, but Picasa as it stands is limited to photo touch-ups and they really need something with the functionality of sumopaint or splashup to flesh out Picasa.
It'll also be interesting to see how Google intend to tackle the issue if Instant Messaging, this is an important feature to most internet users and access to the MSN, Yahoo and AIM networks will be pretty important for the to provide. Of course Google already have Google Talk which is a desktop based IM client which can be accessed via a browser through Gmail and iGoogle, however it only allows access to the Google Talk network at present. It's possible Google could bring support for other networks into Google Talk, but not guarantee'd, instead Google may force people who want access to other networks to use the web based clients of those networks.
Linux has for years made a similar offering to what Google intend to offer with their OS - a free, fast and functional Operating System but has only ever managed to make a small dent in the Microsoft market share, so what do Google hope to achieve? They're aiming their crosshairs at the netbook consumers in the first instance, a logical step since these small low powered laptops are aimed primarily at those who need computers for the internet and little else - the idea being that most of these consumers would value the speed and simplicity Google are offering. But will they? Netbooks were originally offered with a version of Linux that gave quick and simple access to a variety of common PC functions, they sold well, however when netbooks became available with stripped down versions of Windows XP and Vista onboard they quickly took over as the market leaders - in fact of the 5 netbooks in amazon.co.uk's top 10 best sellers in PC's and Laptops all 5 come with one version or another of Windows. This suggests to me that the consumer doesn't just want a functional computer, they want a Windows computer. Google does however have a massive brand awareness factor that Linux doesn't and current Google users who are in the market for a netbook may be swayed in favour of the Google offering. Only time will tell, but I'm sure Google will spend a pretty penny making this happen.
In other OS news I went for the £45 pre-order deal on Windows 7 Home Premium. I actually happened to be up during the early hours of Wednesday morning (the 15th) and decided to take the offer, and it's a good thing I did as if I'd slept on it I'd probably have been faced with the new £75 price tag. Thankfully Amazon have a pre-order price guarantee so I should get my copy for the £45. Now just to wait until October...