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Will Google's Android-Chrome Consolidation Threaten Windows?

Google's decision to pull the man known as the father of Android from that group is a huge gamble by CEO Larry Page and one that poses a new threat to Microsoft and Apple.

The unexpected move to bring Android under the auspices of Sundar Pichai, who already oversees Chrome and Apps, suggests Page remains determined to upend the PC business just as his company has done with tablets and smartphones.

While Page didn't say that outright, read between the lines: "Today we're living in a new computing environment," he said in a blog post announcing the move. "While Andy's a really hard act to follow, I know Sundar will do a tremendous job doubling down on Android as we work to push the ecosystem forward."

Since their debut in 2011, Chromebooks have not moved the needle much. Page's move this week looks like he has a master plan in hopes of giving Chromebooks a major lift. Windows fans and Microsoft shouldn't shrug this off, at least not yet, lest we forget how many did the same when Google first announced the Android phone OS. By bringing Android, Chrome and ChromeOS together, Google will be able to draw from the ecosystem that to make Chromebooks a more compelling alternative to Windows PCs (and Macs for that matter).

In addition to piggybacking on the Android ecosystem for Chrome OS, leveraging technology from Android could have all kinds of ramifications including the ability to provide application portability and an improved touch interface, among other things. While the initial crop of Chromebooks boast a low price tag of less that $500 (some half that amount), they have had limited capabilities -- effectively only allowing you to use the Chrome browser to run Google Apps in the cloud.

Things are changing and now the latest entry, the Google Chromebook Pixel, starts at a hefty $1,299, which PCWorld labels "an expensive curiosity." One of the key objections to Chromebooks -- that you have to store your Google Apps in the cloud -- is going to go away.  As Derik VanVleet, a senior solutions engineer on the sales team of Atlanta-based Cloud Sherpas, Google's largest partner, explains, Google will offer a native client for Chrome that will be natively built into Google Apps thanks to the company's acquisition of Quickoffice last year.

"This whole conversation of documents fidelity and document conversion goes away," VanVleet told me. "Quickoffice allows me to natively edit Microsoft documents in their native format with virtually 100 percent fidelity, better than what Microsoft is able to offer in Office 365 Web Apps. Once Quickoffice is fully integrated to Google Apps whole conversation is going to go away and Microsoft is going to have a real problem."

All About Microsoft blogger and Redmond magazine columnist Mary Jo Foley has often pointed to the possibility of Microsoft bringing together its Windows and Windows Phone groups. Weighing in on Google's OS consolidation move this week, she again raised the specter of Microsoft finally merging the two groups and platforms.

There's another factor to consider. PC makers are fuming over Microsoft's covert development and ultimate release of its Surface tablet. That has led quite a few, the latest being HP, to jump on the Chromebook bandwagon. But just as PC makers need to keep Microsoft in check, Google is offering its own branded device and with its Motorola Mobility unit, has the resources to continue that push.

Google's realignment also comes as Bloomberg today reports that sales of Microsoft's Surface devices are more dismal than originally projected. Microsoft has sold only 400,000 Surface Pros and 1 million Surface RTs -- half of what it projected, sources told Bloomberg. Microsoft did not comment on the report.

Chromebooks haven't made a dent either, so right now Google and Microsoft are in the same boat. While I asked last month if HP and others jumping on the Chromebook bandwagon might bolster ChromeOS's prospects, the response was that Chromebooks will have their place but so will Windows 8 and Windows RT.

Do you think Google's move Wednesday will up the ante in making Chromebooks more appealing to consumers and business users? And how do you think Microsoft should respond? Drop me a line at [email protected].


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/15/2013 at 1:15 PM


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