Chrome OS: Can it be a desktop OS? Should it be?

So, have you heard? Google has announced that it is building an operating system: Chrome OS.

I kid. Of course you've heard. How could you not have?

One of the downsides of living on the East Coast is that sometimes tech news bombshells drop after I've gone to bed. When I wake up, everyone has covered it. And this time I really mean everyone; I've seen literally a dozen articles on Chrome OS this morning.

It seems like Ars Technica may have first broken the story, which led to Google itself following suit on its blog.

Most sites are reporting it as an OS for netbooks, but Google says it will be suitable for anyone who uses the web extensively, and that Chrome OS "is being designed to power computers ranging from small netbooks to full-size desktop systems." Google acknowledges the overlap between Android and Chrome OS, but I'm not sure consumers are going to get it. Aside from the fact that Chrome OS runs on x86 systems and Android doesn't, I'm not all that clear on the differences and I'm a technofile technophile. I predict quite a bit of consumer confusion between Google Android and Google Chrome OS.

Google wants us all in the cloud, but in my opinion, they've got more work to do than releasing Chrome OS. I do most of my writing using Google Docs, and while it gets the job done for knocking out blog posts, I wouldn't want to write anything with complex formatting in it. About 50% of the time, Word docs that people send to my Gmail account won't open with Google docs (thank goodness for OpenOffice). The Spreadsheet application is also pretty clunky. You can get by with these apps in a pinch, but they're not yet ready to replace a full office suite.

Compared to what we had 5 years ago, web applications are pretty amazing, and I can see Chrome OS doing well on netbooks (which are generally used as secondary machines). But I'm unconvinced that people are ready to give up Windows, OS X or Linux on their desktops or laptops where they do all their heavy lifting. Contrary to what some news sources are speculating, I don't think Microsoft has a lot to worry about just yet. There's some threat in the netbook space, but even there, most people who're using Windows on their 'main' machine will opt for a netbook using the same OS, since it is a familiar environment.

That's what I think, anyway. What do you think? Will Chrome OS threaten Windows? And if it does, is that a good thing? Is Google getting a bit too big for comfort? Do we want them controlling search, online advertising, our email and our desktop systems? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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