Fifteen years ago if you wanted to write an application that would run on over 90% of the world’s personal computers, you only needed to target one OS. Today, to do the same, you’d need to develop for ten - Windows, Linux, OS X, Android, iOS, webOS, BlackBerry OS, Symbian, MeeGo and of course, the web.

You don’t get order without first having chaos and you don’t end up with consolidation without first going through fragmentation. The PC era was dominated by Microsoft and Intel. The transition to ubiquitous computing allowed for many more competitors, which results in a great deal of fragmentation up front.

The goal however, is the same. Every player in this space wants to be what Microsoft was during the PC era. Even the actions are the same. There’s no interoperability between platforms, there are closed door negotiations and exclusivity agreements resulting in a number of alliances that are not easily broken.

Microsoft’s leverage is existing revenue stream. Its partners want to continue to receive favorable terms for existing PC shipments and thus tend to avoid embracing Google or other non-Microsoft OSes too eagerly. Google’s leverage is the promise of a very un-Microsoft future. Lower costs, friendlier terms and the ability for its partners to get in on the ground floor of something big. Neither approach is guaranteed and aligning yourself with one company is risky. The rest of the players are vertically integrated hardware vendors that are trying to mimic the success that Apple has had with iOS and OS X (e.g. HP/Palm, RIM). MeeGo is the only exception there as Intel/Nokia want it to be treated as an alternative to Android.

Then there’s the web. The most universal of all of the platforms, the web isn’t controlled or dominated by any one company. Great open source browser projects have ensured that nearly all of the platforms I listed above have great ways to access the web, and most can run any app you’ve got on the web.

PCs are the more traditional portal to the web. Sure they can do much more than run a web browser, but as web applications and services grow more powerful, the list of things you have to do outside of a browser window shrinks. This is especially true for mainstream consumers who check their email in a web browser, get their news in a web browser, chat in a web browser, watch videos in a web browser and listen to music, all within a browser window. In fact, the netbook was born out of the idea that you don’t need a huge transistor budget to provide the silicon that can drive a browser and the apps you run on top of it.

Fifteen years ago most households had one computer, if that. These days you might have five within a single room (desktop, notebook, smartphone, media streaming box and tablet). Households didn’t become infinitely more wealthy over the past two decades - the cost of these secondary and tertiary computing devices just dropped. Moore’s Law enables two things: more processing power at the same cost, or equivalent processing power at a lower cost. Iterate the Law a few times and you’ll eventually be able to create silicon that’s fast enough for specific tasks at a very low cost. Shrinking transistor feature sizes, costs and high levels of silicon integration gave us the fast enough ARM based SoCs that enable today’s awesome smartphones, as well as the Atom processor that created the netbook industry.

Interestingly enough, the problems that impact the high end of the market also impact this fast enough segment of the market. At the high end we’ve got tons of compute, storage and IOPS thanks to multicore CPUs/GPUs, low memory costs and SSDs, but we don’t have a lot of software to really tax it all. Believe it or not, the same gap exists at the low end. The difference is that while Atom is more than fast enough to run a web browser, it’s typically burdened by a heavy weight OS that hampers the user experience.

Microsoft’s Inaction & Learning from Our Mistakes
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  • dustcrusher - Thursday, December 9, 2010 - link

    I'd like to see some of the developers and designers at Opera come up with an Opera OS concept, just for kicks. It'd be an interesting read.

    Opera seems to be less...obnoxious about wanting user data than Microsoft, Google, or Apple do- I can't really back it up with facts, but it just seems like they wouldn't be as hellbent on getting as much marketing info on their users as possible.

    The real question (which you indirectly suggested) is would they be the same if they were able to release OperaOS, and the answer is probably "only slightly less so."
  • gr00 - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    Haha I was thinking the same thing when I heard about ChromeOS. Opera is my browser of choice.

    How are opera different? Take a look at security concerns with google that everyone just seems to have forgotten by now. First googlemail, than chrome browser, then ChromeOS. And it's evolution of google's idea of privacy and what of your data actually belongs to them. Google is way above Microsoft and Apple in this respect. And now you put all your data on their servers, without the option to use only local storage. How is this better than a virus?
  • nitrousoxide - Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - link

    So Chrome OS is gonna use very little computing power, right? What level of computing power does it require? I guess a GPU capable of hardware acceleration is essential 'cuz we got lots of HD videos on Youtube today. Won't Ontario APU be a good choice? Atom is just uncapable of handling that.
  • ckryan - Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - link

    I hope Chrome becomes a true netbook alternative. I like the developer version seen in the pictures. I hope the lack of branding and silly aesthetics are left out of the final designs. The pictured netbook looks awesome... simple, and while I like my function keys and ctr/alt keys, I like the restrained keyboard design. Can't wait to see how it shakes out.
  • Kamen75 - Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - link

    I would hope that Google would build a Gaming service like OnLive into these netbooks or just use OnLive itself. With all the heavy lifting being done by their own servers today's standard $299 Atom or better based netbook would work for this service. Add in hdmi output and you could possibly have a console grade gaming device at no additional cost. Just buy some controllers and subscribe to the service.
  • Ratman6161 - Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - link

    Lets put this idea of a "Microsoft Tax" to rest.

    At $299 - $399 for chrome based netbooks, they cost the same as a Windows 7 based netbook such as the HP Mini's. Obviously Microsoft must figure they are making some money off of the deal somehow, but where ever it is it isn't passed on to the customer since the prices are the same.

    So whee is this mysterious "tax" I keep hearing about if I pay the same for either one?
  • Akv - Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - link

    I'm not sure, I don't know but Google may be engaging in a gross missunderstanding.

    I mean since it is based on Moblin Linux, why not get a netbook with a light Linux that would let me install anything, retain full control on my files, access anything on the web, and even... access Google apps online if I wish ???
  • GeorgeH - Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - link

    Beyond the giant middle finger to Microsoft and possibly Intel if ARM takes off, what is Google getting out of this? Are you going to be locked in to Google services (Google search, Gmail, etc.) or will Bing and Hotmail work too? Does the OS include "anonymous" user tracking/profiling for targeted advertising like other Google services?

    Basically, what's Google's game here?
  • skjef - Thursday, December 9, 2010 - link

    From what I can tell so far, you _need_ a Google account just to boot the thing up. You'll be automatically logged into any Google services you use like Youtube or search, which track your activity anyway.

    The default email/docs/search is all Google, which most people won't bother to change. Google makes all their money on advertising, so it seems like their game is just to get more people browsing the web faster. More page views = more advertising dollars.
  • GeorgeH - Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - link

    I've gotten the same lame "Voice Five" popup (not a separate window, just slapped over the content) twice today, and only on Anandtech so I'm pretty sure it's on the AT side. Is it new AT policy to allow popup advertisements?

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