Google’s desktop operating system Chrome OS has been in the news recently after The Wall Street Journal published an article claiming Google was looking to “fold” it into Android, an operating system with an order of magnitude more users.
Google launched Chrome OS in 2009 as an alternative operating system to Windows, OS X, and Linux that was, essentially, just the Chrome web browser with a few extra offline capabilities. Over the years, interest in Chrome OS has increased. PC makers and the education market are both interested, and they are key reasons Google needs to maintain its operating system.
“Android still hasn’t really gained the trust of education buyers,” said Linn Huang, an analyst for IDC, in an email. However, the market has begun to trust Chrome OS and this is one of the reasons IDC predicts that over 7.5 million Chromebooks — small, cheap laptops that run Chrome OS — will ship in 2015.
According to data provided to Business Insider by IDC, Chromebook shipments have risen from around 500,000 in 2012, to 2.5 million in 2013, to 6 million in 2014 and then to 7.5 million in 2015. This growth, which contradicts a negative trend across the whole PC industry, is impressive for machines that are both cheap and, until recently, little more than the Chrome browser.
Chrome OS offers Google an “in” with the education market, but it also offers PC makers the option of diversifying away from Microsoft’s Windows — something many are keen to do. “Multiple [PC makers] bet on Chromebook as part of the evolution towards mobility and cloud, looking for incremental growth opportunities and new device usage scenario,” said Marta Fiorentini, an analyst for IDC.
“I think [PC makers] and even Intel felt the need to look at alternative OSes as a means to diversify their portfolio away from Microsoft when Surface and RT launched. A butterfly flaps its wings, and Chromebooks becomes the fastest rising product in US education in a few short years,” said Huang.
Beyond giving PC makers leverage over Microsoft (if only a small amount), Chrome OS also helps Google compete against the iPad, especially in the education market. “The iPad quickly gained favour in education partly due to its favourable upfront pricing, and there really wasn’t a product in the Windows catalogue (particularly after the netbook category died out) that could compete in pricing,” says Huang. Chromebooks, however, could.
Microsoft has since hit back, launching Windows 10 with Bing which costs nothing to PC makers and should, the company hopes, bring them back on-board. “Microsoft last year launched the Bing promotion that significantly reduced the licensing fees for Microsoft’s [partners],” says Fiorentini. “The promotion had great success, boosting shipments and consumers’ demand, and certainly managed to slow down growth for Chromebooks.”
However, Google’s commitment — and 7.5 millon shipments — shows that even Microsoft cannot stop Chromebooks.
There have been rumours that Google will create a third, “hybrid” operating system which would “combine the best of both” Android and Chrome OS, a source told Business Insider. Google has, up until now, maintained a clear distinction between the two operating systems, only recently bringing mobile apps to Chrome, and creating a third operating system means the company can continue to do so.
Chrome OS allows both Google and PC makers a strategic advantage over a particular field, whether it’s diversifying from Windows or the education market. Killing Chrome OS — or even phasing it out — loses this advantage. “Chrome OS’s true value comes from offering an extremely streamlined and easy to use desktop experience,” said Thomas Jenn, a spokesperson for ASUS, and Google isn’t going to throw that away.
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