Google's Chrome OS is perhaps the company's greatest tragedy. Announced in a pre-iPad world where netbooks reign supreme as the hottest selling computing devices on the market, it was uniquely well-positioned to take advantage of growing dissatisfaction with Windows, the rise of the cloud, and the trend toward a browser-based paradigm. Fast forward to the present, and the world has changed. The netbook market has collapsed. Tablets are the new hotness, led by iPad. And the Chrome OS, once Google's greatest hope for redefining the way users interact with their computers, has been shoved aside in favor of a still-developing Android. Chrome OS is not dead yet. In fact, Google today announced the launch of two "Chromebooks," one by Samsung and the other by Acer. The machines, which take design cues from the 11" MacBook Air, appear to be inexpensive, capable devices that will function as well as an OS based on the generally reliable Chrome browser can. The fact that Google has worked so hard to get these devices to the market, when logic suggests that shifting resources to Android might be more prudent, indicates that senior management believes in the concept underlying the product. However, I can't help but wonder if even in its finished state, the Chrome OS is simply entering the world too late to make a substantial impact.
After all, with iPad having all but destroyed netbooks, the market Chrome OS was intended to dominate no longer exists. Individuals in the market for an inexpensive computer are now gravitating to tablets - specifically iPads. Consumers who are not won over by the iPad will look at both Android and Chrome OS, and choosing one will inevitably hurt the other. In essence, with the netbook market hurting, Google may be pitting its two OSes against one another. Maybe that doesn't hurt the company in the grand scheme of things, but it doesn't give me much confidence that Chromebooks are going to make it big.
So will it work? Personally, I think a Chromebook is a more compelling product than an Android tablet, but as an iPad user, I'll be purchasing neither. I suspect that unless the Chromebook experience is so outlandishly good that it pulls users from not only iPad, but also from the dying Windows netbook market and elsewhere, it will ultimately end up a disappointment. What then? I suspect Google will do what it always does: sigh, kill the product, fold its most appealing features into something else (probably Android), and move on.
I don't think that Chromebooks are going to be bad products. I just think that the Chrome OS, because of delays and unexpected shifts in the market, is simply a product that's time has passed before it even began.