Commentary: Google Chrome OS could be welcome competition to Windows

To owners of personal computers, those qualities can be agonizingly out of reach. Calling up a Web site can seem to take forever, but everything can inexplicably come crashing down in a matter of seconds. Viruses and identity theft are almost constant concerns.

Enter Chrome OS, due out in 2010. Google Inc.'s planned free operating system, based on its Chrome Web browser, will be a full frontal assault on Microsoft's Windows system — especially in the surging market for the small, relatively inexpensive netbooks, which will be its first target.

For consumers, anything that offers competition to the hugely dominant Windows would be a plus, giving them more options and the promise of lower prices.

It's already having an effect. A full year before Chrome is scheduled to come on the market, Microsoft is reacting by offering a low price on its older Windows XP system for netbooks. And it is assuring users that its next operating system due out this fall, Windows 7, will work well on netbooks as well as on larger computers.

Although Google's challenge has lit a fire under Microsoft, the Redmond-based giant probably doesn't have much to worry about, at least in the short term. Its business customers are unlikely to switch to a system that appears tailor-made for users who mainly need a computer for e-mail and searching the Web. About 70 percent of business applications are designed to run on Windows.

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