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Google's vanity OS is Microsoft's dream

Snug as two bugs in an antitrust rug

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No one will be happier than Microsoft about Google's vanity venture to market computers with a Google-brand OS. It gives us the illusion of competition without seriously troubling either business, although both will obligingly huff and puff about how serious they are about this new, phoney OS war. Since both of these giants are permanently in trouble with antitrust regulators - they're at different stages of IBM-style thirty years legal epics - that's just the ticket for them both.

Google's failure to dent the Microsoft monopoly will simply notch up another failure for Linux (whose fans are quite happy to work for The Man, as long as it's not the Man from Redmond) - and it'll do nothing for consumers. How so? Because the computing problems we'll have tomorrow will still be the same ones we have today.

It's a pity, really. There's certainly a gap in the market for new classes of devices, somewhere between a phone and a full-blown laptop. Pocket communicators with built-in connectivity, and a better keyboard than a phone, could be far preferable to any "converged" device on the market today, even the sainted iPhone.

Think of the old Psion 3 or 5 pocket computer on steroids, offering a lovely QWERTY keyboard for messaging, a screen that's good enough for browsing and a photo album, and small enough to fit in a jacket pocket. Today's netBooks really don't have instant-on yet, nor an optimal UI - and in a pell-mell competitive market where margins are squeezed, they're getting bigger, heavier and more expensive.

But these are both niches, at the end of the day, and don't need Linux underneath.

And because they're niches, they won't seriously challenge Microsoft's hegemony in the desktop market. The idea of a desktop running a thin OS served by the cloud is fine - until you want to do image processing, or make music or videos. You do realise there's more to a PC than updating your Facebook profile, right?

The extent of image processing in the cloud begins and ends with ICanHazCheeseburger. You really can't fault its ability to move the funny caption around - and change its colour! Get back to me when there's real-time video scrubbing, rendering or multiple levels of Undo.

Linux is a fine OS until you get to the applications - ah, yes... GIMP - and integration with the real-world, doing stuff your Mum needs to do. To make Linux n00b-friendly, Google would need to impose Google UI guidelines and do the hard work itself on a range of applications, because the cloud equivalents aren't there and Linux consistently fails to pass the consumer test.

Why you're being conned

There are some clues here that tell us Google really isn't serious about VanityOS - or whatever it decides to call it. Android would have been a much better choice - it's easy for OEMs and ISVs to work with, and developers love the rapid-development cycle of an interpreted language. (Yes, I know you can compile native code that sort-of-works - the beauty is in the development environment.)

Google doesn't really have a lot of faith in its own cloud computing applications if it needs to take a huge multiuser OS and strip out the innards, just as a backup.

After a couple of years of pronouncements we'll be exactly where we are today. Google will still be setting the price for internet advertising thanks to its "black box" psuedo-auction, and Microsoft will still be pre-installed (or pre-warez'd) on almost every desktop in the world.

Large corporations approaching maturity need something to keep them busy, and when they're not angling for pieces of state action, they'll often reach agreements like this. Here, they're inventing "competition". ®

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