By Harry McCracken | Saturday, July 11, 2009 at 6:53 pm
Google’s announcement of Chrome OS is causing observers to try and figure out which other gigantic tech company it most closely resemble. Brian Caufield of Forbes thinks that Google is “stealing” ideas from Apple, pointing out that both companies now make operating systems for PCs and phones, browsers, productivity suites, and e-mail, and bringing up the fact that Google CEO Eric Schmidt serves on Apple’s board.
I’m not convinced that Google is intentionally or unconsciously cribbing anything from Apple. In every case Caufield cites except browsers, Google’s products and Apple’s are wildly different. The two companies’ approaches to operating systems couldn’t be less similar: Apple’s OS is a rich, proprietary, decidedly traditional piece of software that’s available only on its own, premium-priced computers. Google’s Chrome OS is going to be a simple, open-source, Web-centric product that will show up on cheap netbooks from other companies, and Google plans to give it away. Remind me again exactly what part of this constitutes intellectual theft?
Beyond the fundamentally different personalities of the two companies–which Caufield does acknowledge–it’s also worth nothing that they seem to be steering clear of each other’s core businesses. Apple doesn’t do search; Google doesn’t sell music or video.
Then there’s Anil Dash’s comparison of Google to Microsoft. I can quibble with some of the examples he gives–he says that Google is focusing on Android at the expense of the iPhone, when in fact Google continues to produce some of the best iPhone apps and services of anybody. But the basic metaphor is apt, and worrisome–between Android and Chrome OS Chrome-the-browser and Google Apps and Knol and Wave and 11,342 other projects, Google is entering almost every market you can imagine it entering. So far, the results are more often good-to-excellent than disappointing. But there’s no way that Google can successfully be all things to all people indefinitely. (Lots of folks are excited about Wave, but it felt disturbingly Microsoftian to me.)
Of course, Google’s at its best when it’s reminiscent of neither Apple nor Microsoft, but is its own admirable self. May it continue to be really good at being Google for a long time to come…