View From Above

May 18 2011   1:57PM GMT

Google Has to Consolidate Muddled OS Strategy



Posted by: Ron Miller
Tags:
Android
ChromeOS
enterprise IT
Google
Honeycomb
mobile
Operating Systems
Google made a big splash last week when it announced the Chromebook, which is basically a netbook running a new browser-based operating system called ChromeOS. The new OS is all well and good, but I’m wondering if Google is in danger of confusing consumers and IT alike with a few too many OSs.

Let’s review the line-up first:

  • Android: That’s the open source operating system for phones.
  • Honeycomb: That’s like Android, but instead of being for phones, it’s for tablets.
  • ChromeOS: That’s the browser-based OS built on Linux for Netbooks.

Confused yet? I know I am and I’m finding readers are too, mixing up the different OSs in discussions — and how can you blame them?

Joe ‘Zonker’ Brockmeier, a veteran technology journalist who has been covering open source for many years thinks Google needs to get its act together around these operating systems or risk market confusion.

“Yeah, I think that Google is stepping all over itself marketing-wise. It needs to do better at explaining its roadmap, where all these things fit, and how they’ll come together,” Brockmeier said.

And that’s part of the problem right there. It’s hard to know what you’re talking about when referring to Google’s OS roadmap, and the way the different versions get implemented (or not) simply adds to the confusion.

Brockmeier isn’t as concerned as some around Android fragmentation, but he can see where it could alarm users. “Initially when people were talking about Android fragmentation – when carriers were slow in shipping point upgrades to users (like 2.1 to 2.2) I wasn’t too concerned. It’s not optimal, but it’s also not the end of the world” he said. Brockmeier added that having multiple operating systems isn’t the end of the world either, but it’s not very good for users and it’s a big red flag for anybody who’s paying attention.

Brockmeier wonders why Google didn’t simply extend Android to the Netbook, rather than coming out with yet another operating system. “It’s hard to see why Google is also pushing ChromeOS when it could nudge Android onto netbooks – and, in fact, one OEM has done this with the Motorola Atrix. I think the Atrix configuration makes much more sense than the browser-based OS that just runs Web apps. They could do the Web apps plus other apps by beefing up the browser that ships with Android,” he said.

Regardless of what you might think of Google’s operating systems in general, you have to admit that the approach they’ve taken could be troublesome for users. The Google naming conventions don’t help (Froyo, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich and so forth).

What we have are the ingredients for a muddled marketing picture. Google could avoid this if it just decided on a single code base and built all of the pieces on top of that. As it stands, they have way too many operating systems and potentially a lot of bewildered users — not to mention IT pros who must be wondering just how many operating systems they are going to have to support from the same company.

Photo by lrargerich on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

7  Comments on this Post

 
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  • B230826
    So that's like: Windows 7 : Desktop OS (3 editions) Windows 7 for Phones: Mobile phone OS Windows Server: Server OS Confused? I know I am
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  • Woodybrando
    google's merging honeycomb and gingerbread with ice cream. that just leaves android and chrome. a java machine for chrome would get all your android apps onto chrome and chrome is a browser so it shouldn't be hard to get apps from chrome to android. then let the race begin to see which one wins.
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  • Ron Miller
    B230826: Ha. I thought of that too when I was writing this and I think it can lead to confusion there too (especially the multiple versions of the desktop), but I think that Microsoft has a clearer message about how these versions of Windows are used and that's a difference between them and Google. Thanks for the comment. Ron
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  • Ron Miller
    Woody: Your comment is just proof of what I'm talking about. You might as well be speaking another language where most users are concerned. Thanks for the comment. Ron
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  • B230826
    @RonMiller Microsoft has a clearer message wrt Windows desktop OSes than Google only because Google is not selling a desktop OS! Chrome OS will not be offered as a swap-in replacement for Windows. You're comparing apples to oranges. OTOH the flavors of Android could be confusing to the casual reader but Google is working to merge them and in any case, the consumer will get whatever the phone/tablet/netbook maker installs. I doubt that those manufacturers are confused. Maybe its just journalists/bloggers who have difficulty....
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  • Ron Miller
    B230826: Excuse me, but you were the one who brought it up! Now you're trying to say it's because *I'm* confused. Wow. That's a convenient circular argument that's impossible to win. Ron
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  • B230826
    @RonMiller, You should probably look up the definition of "circular argument" since nothing of the sort is happening here. My point is simple: Both Google and Microsoft could be accused of having a superficially-confusing product line. However, when one looks just a little deeper, the apparent confusion vanishes.
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