Google Chrome OS gains credibility with VMware

As VMware makes plans to virtualize Google's Chrome operating system, VARs agree that a VMware and Google combo is enough to shake Microsoft.

VARs have blessed VMware Inc.'s plans to virtualize Google's upcoming Chrome operating system.

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VMware's enterprise clout could help give Google Chrome credibility in businesses where IT professionals might otherwise view Google's consumer-oriented roots with suspicion. It would also reinforce VMware's reputation as a cross-platform player and perhaps strengthen its position against Microsoft -- even as that company pushes Hyper-V virtualization against VMware.

"VMware would be smart to adopt [Chrome]. VMware is the largest desktop virtualization platform out there, and companies that are heterogeneous and have Linux desktops and enterprise desktops, as well as other businesses, are opening up to non-Windows platforms," said Ed Laczynski, chief technology officer of LTech Consulting, a Google partner in Tinton Falls, N.J.

Business people want to experiment with Chrome, and it's a lot easier to do that when they already have VMware, said Laczynski. And they'll have some time to experiment -- Chrome was announced a month ago but is not due until the second half of 2010.

Getting VMware's support could actually drive Chrome adoption, some say. "You need to get it in the hands of the people that live and breathe this stuff every day. [Google Chrome] is great for the mobile work force, for netbooks and for companies that are looking to save money on desktops and don't need a traditional Windows environment," said Laczynski.

Google and VMware are a low-risk combo

Enterprise credibility is still elusive for Google, which made its name in free, ad-based Internet search. Its initial push into the enterprise with the Google search appliance and Google Apps piqued corporate interest, but adoption is not widespread.

Bernard Golden, CEO of Navica Inc., a San Carlos, Calif., systems integrator agrees. "The ability to support a mixed environment is a plus. [Chrome] is easier to adopt, and you don't have to devote a hardware device to it if you just want to check it out."

Still, given Microsoft's desktop dominance, some skepticism of Google's business prospects is warranted. Tony Safoian, president and CEO of Sada Systems Inc., a Google solutions provider in North Hollywood, Calif., said that he isn't willing to bet this move will automatically give Google a trophy in the enterprise market.

"It depends on what [Google] can offer to the enterprise. If you're an enterprise doing everything in the cloud or using Google apps or Salesforce.com, etc., then there is some true utility in this model. It would bypass the traditional Microsoft licensing that most enterprises have to work with," Safoian said.

And that is where virtualization from VMware will help. Given that VMware already works with other Linux variants, supporting Google Chrome presents low risk to VMware.

"It's kind of a no-brainer for VMware to support Chrome. Basically, [Chrome] is just a flavor of Linux, so I don't think [VMware] really has to do much," said Ron Herardian, president of Microsoft partner Global System Services Corp. in Mountain View, Calif.

"Back in the old days, folks would use pullout hard drives to support multiple configurations for software development and testing. Today, VMware is basically the de facto standard. So obviously all the development type of activities that could go on in Chrome can now be used with VMware," Herardian said.

More importantly, this is a straightforward move for Google into desktop virtualization. VMware already offers desktop virtualization, so this is a scenario where very large numbers of extremely thin client terminals can use the Google desktop running under VMware centralized desktops.

An actual Google partnership with VMware would be very interesting and something Microsoft will watch closely. "Virtualization allows Microsoft to be dethroned, and Google's OS running on VMware's software is a big concern for Microsoft," said Todd Swank, vice president of marketing for Nor-Tech, a Burnsville, Minn.-based system builder.

Google vs. Microsoft battle continues

Most VARs agree that it is too soon to tell whether Google will eventually displace much of Microsoft Windows, but some think it's got a shot.

"The battle between Microsoft -- which wants to carve out a larger share of the Internet, especially search and related advertising revenues -- and Google is history in the making," Herardian said. "This is the second time that a major company has taken aim at Microsoft's greatest strength. The first time was IBM with its OS/2 operating system. OS/2 was technically superior, but Microsoft beat IBM through marketing and by tying its Office applications to Windows."

Still, VARs agree that Google is headed in the right direction, and say it poses a serious threat to Microsoft. If anything, the failure of Vista shows that Microsoft is vulnerable.

"Among the many things that are different this time is that Microsoft 'maxed out' the Windows platform with Windows Vista -- the biggest failure in the company's history. It'll be interesting to see if Google's lighter, faster Chrome OS can make headway against Microsoft's enormous bloatware platform," Herardian said.

Microsoft is betting that Windows 7 will recoup ground in desktop OSes, and VARs said it's foolish to sell the software giant short. Vista, notwithstanding, Microsoft Windows still owns the desktop.

Windows "has 95% market share. Chrome, as a browser, only has about 1% market share. But [Chrome OS] does raise the stakes and forces Microsoft to be better and cheaper. It is a disruptive technology. There are a percentage of users in an enterprise that will be able to do a lot of their functions on a Web-centric operating system [like Chrome]," Safoian said.

People are looking at the iPhone as an example of how quickly things can change, and Google Chrome doesn't have to score huge market share to show progress.

"If Chrome can accomplish Apple-like penetration -- even 4% to 5% of the market -- that would be a huge victory," Safoian said.

Laczynski agrees that everyone will have to wait to see if Google can dethrone Windows, but he thinks that Google certainly has a shot in mobile phones, netbooks and other small devices.

"In the corporate desktop environment, Google has their work cut out from them. We see interest from clients who want to experiment with Google, and this is good for everyone -- solutions providers, managed service providers and clients," Laczynski said.

Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies in Fairfax, Va., doesn't think Google can make a noticeable dent in Microsoft's dominance. "Windows isn't in any threat of being displaced, but Google certainly will give Microsoft a reason to think about its next steps. Windows 7 is a product that is coming out with a release date and available code. Chrome is a design and speculation."

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