updated 04:05 pm EDT, Tue July 14, 2009
Ballmer Shrugs at ChromeOS
Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer at the Windows Partners Conference today downplayed a possible threat to Windows from Google's Chrome OS. The executive admitted that the web app-focused platform was "highly interesting" to him but questioned its true role and said it could invoke unnecessary confusion given possible overlap with Android, which in a few cases may target the same ultra mobile notebook space.
"I don't know if they can't make up their mind or what the problem is over there, but the last time I checked, you don't need two client operating systems," said Ballmer. "It's good to have one."
He didn't address the self-contradiction of offering both Windows and Windows Mobile, which themselves are used on handheld devices.
Chrome OS isn't expected until later in 2010 but could challenge Microsoft's near-complete dominance of the netbook space, where it successfully ousted Linux as the primary operating system. Google's software should be less resource intensive and will particularly require less storage thanks to its greater dependence on Internet-based apps. Windows 7 is the first modern Microsoft OS to run smoothly on netbooks but will still usually require 1GB of RAM and at least 15GB of hard drive space in most circumstances, ruling out the 8GB or smaller solid-state drives present on some netbooks.
Ballmer has had a historically poor record of addressing threats in public speeches, famously deriding Google itself as a "house of cards" and claiming that Apple would fare poorly with the iPhone when it was first launched, though he partly blamed it on the high price that was commonly held as a limiting factor. Since both these events, Google has readily eclipsed Microsoft as the leading search engine provider and Apple's smartphone sales are threatening to overtake the entire Windows Mobile device business, which reached about 20 million units in 2008.