Google Inc chief executive Eric Schmidt can’t wait for the Internet search leader’s free operating system to debut next year.
But he admits his excitement is a relatively recent phenomenon, having spent his first six years as Google’s CEO trying to convince company co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin that developing an operating system to compete against Microsoft Corp’s dominant Windows franchise would be a terrible idea.
Schmidt now believes Google can withstand whatever counter punches Microsoft might throw as the company sets out to make computers cheaper to buy and more enjoyable to use with an operating system tied to Google’s nine-month-old browser, Chrome.
“They are game changers,” Schmidt said during a 75-minute interview on Thursday with a group of reporters at an exclusive media conference in the Idaho mountains.
The operating system, due out in the second half of next year, threatens to chip away at Microsoft’s market share in the low end of the PC market — the less expensive and less powerful laptops known as “netbooks” which are becoming increasingly popular among consumers primarily interested in surfing the Web.
Both Schmidt and Page, who accompanied the CEO during the interview, sought to downplay Google’s showdown with Microsoft. It’s also something Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates didn’t want to discuss when he was approached at the same conference earlier on Thursday.
But Page couldn’t resist taking some veiled shots at Windows.
Without mentioning Windows, he suggested Microsoft’s operating system is becoming archaic as people spend more and more of their computer time in a Web browser.
“The way we are think about it is if you are living your life online, maybe you don’t want everything [on computers] that came from Eric’s generation,” Page, 36, said as he smiled at the 54-year-old Schmidt.
Most industry observers believe it will take years before the Chrome operating system develops into a serious challenger to Microsoft’s Windows, which runs on more than 1 billion PCs, Collins Stewart analyst Sandeep Aggarwal said.
But the Chrome operating system also could put Google into direct competition with Apple Inc, a computer maker whose board of directors includes Schmidt and another Google director, Arthur Levinson. The Federal Trade Commission already is taking a look at whether Schmidt’s and Levinson’s overlapping with Google and Apple threaten to diminish competition.
Schmidt doesn’t see a conflict. He said he doesn’t intend to recuse himself from Apple board discussions about computer operating systems like he does when the directors talk about Apple’s iPhone.
Google also makes a mobile operating system called Android.
Some computer makers already are considering using Android as an operating system in netbooks, but both Page and Schmidt said they think Android is better suited for handheld devices. They also think elements of the Android and Chrome systems could eventually merge.
Although Google won’t charge for the Chrome operating system, Schmidt said it could easily pay off by driving down the cost of computers so people can afford to buy more machines and surf the Web more often. Google wants people to spend more time online because it is the biggest seller of Internet ads — the main source of its more than US$20 billion in annual revenue.