Update: This was originally written way back in 2006. I called it! Obviously Android has taken off, and Chromebooks are running ChromeOS. If you are curious as to what my thoughts were back in 2006 though, keep reading!
If there is one company that could really compete with Microsoft in the operating system market, it’s probably Google. Whether it would be worth it for them or not, I don’t know, and I would imagine they’d probably have to go with a Google flavor of Linux, but they do have a few things going for them.
They have the Google brand name. A problem I think any new OS developer faces is that no matter how good their product may be, unless they’re a giant, many people will be hesistant to switch over. After all, if Microsoft Windows is working fine, how can any individual or company be sure that a new OS isn’t going to cause them massive headaches. Even if it’s cheaper or free, is it really worth the risk? Since people are familar with Google, know how to use Google’s services, and in general are not confronted by issue after issue with Google’s services already, I think people would be more likely to “trust” that a Google OS isn’t going to leave them with a bad experience.
Most people seem to like Google. They were the ones to bring about the change in free email storage, and they seem to bring about new services every so often that people just plain like and enjoy. When a new service is brought out, there are people who seem to go out and try it just because it’s from Google, it’s often innovative, and quite simply “neat”. If you like a company, you’re probably more likely to use or switch to their services. Look at Apple’s fan-base. Many people use their products because they simply like Apple. Even when Apple was going through some really rough times, people stayed loyal to them. Liking a company seems to go hand-in-hand with being loyal to the company. This would undoubtedly be reflected in the OS market.
Google has a strong enough financial backing that they can try just about anything. Even if they started an OS and weren’t profiting from it, they can afford to keep developing and supporting it. Not a lot of companies can say the same.
Linux is already well developed, and many people are switching. Yet there are also many who are hesitant to switch for various reasons, perhaps partly because there are so many flavors of it, and partly because while there is a lot of support in the community, just about every major program is still made for Windows, and support for Linux seems to come second if at all. Creating a Google flavor of Linux could change this. Not only would more people quickly convert to Linux, but there would be a great deal of development happening. After all, if Google has an OS that many are switching to, why would any developer want to be left out in the cold?
In short, if Google decided that they wanted to create a Linux based Google OS, I have little doubt that it would be a success. Microsoft would undoubtedly suffer, and Google could feasibly take their place on the “OS throne”. Whether this is in the plans for Google is unknown, but at least in the short term, I believe it would be healthy competition for Microsoft, and beneficial to end users in many ways.