- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 9, 2009

Google Inc. raised the stakes in its rivalry with Microsoft Corp. as the search leader declared it will enter the operating system market next year - targeting the software giant’s core business in its latest and most direct challenge to Microsoft yet.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Google said its operating system is an extension of its nine-month-old Internet browser, Chrome. The company is eyeing low-cost laptop computers to run the system, which will reach the marketplace by the end of next year, according to a Tuesday night announcement on Google’s Web site.

By all accounts, the move is tantamount to a declaration of war on Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft, which is a household name because of its dominant Windows operating system. It also comes on the heels of Microsoft’s launch this spring of a new search engine to compete with Google, called Bing.

“We hear a lot from our users and their message is clear - computers need to get better. People want to get to their e-mail instantly, without wasting time waiting for their computers to boot and browsers to start up,” wrote Sundar Pichai, Google’s vice president of product management, and Linus Upson, director of engineering, in a blog post.

“And any time our users have a better computing experience, Google benefits as well by having happier users who are more likely to spend time on the Internet,” they added.

A representative for Microsoft declined to comment Wednesday.

Dan Ackerman, a senior editor for the technology news site CNET.com, said Microsoft should not worry just yet. While the Google offering will provide “a very usable front-end for consumers,” he noted that Microsoft has a time advantage in releasing its next operating system this fall.

“By the time the first Chrome OS netbooks are available - the second half of 2010 - Microsoft’s netbook-friendly Windows 7 will have already had about a year to maintain its iron grip on the netbook market,” he said.

Google said its foray into the operating system market benefits consumers, with competition and an open-source design fostering innovation. For example, the company is retooling security architecture so that users of its Chrome operating system “don’t have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates.”

No cost figures were given, though Google’s stated target of users who primarily use computers for surfing the Web suggests it is eyeing budget-conscious consumers of lower-powered laptops.

The Chrome operating system is only the latest - albeit the boldest - iteration of Google’s quest to dethrone Microsoft.

The company has made it a point to offer products to compete with Microsoft in several areas, beginning with search and Web-based applications such as Gmail, which rivals Microsoft’s Hotmail, and Google Docs, a challenge to Microsoft’s Word program. The firm’s Android operating system for smartphones encroached on the territory of Windows Mobile while Google’s Chrome Internet browser is taking aim at Internet Explorer.

In turn, Microsoft has pumped money into research to bolster its products but has struggled to chip away at Google’s success in the search and advertising realms. Bing has received some praise from the technology community, however, and Microsoft has spent millions to advertise the newly revamped search engine.

Google’s ever-expanding reach has sparked antitrust concerns among privacy advocates, and Tuesday’s announcement is sure to add new impetus to the debate over how much information the company collects from its users. Google did not respond to a request for additional comment on potential antitrust issues.

Shares of Google jumped $5.86 at $402.49 on the Nasdaq Stock Market on Wednesday, while Microsoft closed up 3 cents at $22.56.

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