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    News: Google challenge to Microsoft software empire

    FRIDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2010 | Financial Times Bookmark and Share

    The battle between Google and Microsoft to shape the future of personal computing has stepped up a gear after Google unveiled an internet-centric laptop that it said would offer a cheaper alternative to the traditional PC.

    Executives at the search company said companies such as American Airlines and Kraft had been lining up to try out the new machine in the hope of saving large amounts on their PC costs.

    They said Acer and Samsung would start selling consumer versions of the notebook computers running the new operating system, known as Chrome OS, by the middle of next year.

    However, Google also conceded that it had fallen six months behind in completing the software as it tried to iron out technical problems, and analysts said the company was in for a long battle as it attempted to launch a direct attack on the main stronghold of Microsoft's software empire.The Chrome OS laptop marks the culmination of Google's efforts to build a PC that draws entirely on the information and computing power on the web, rather than running "native" software made by Microsoft or other traditional software companies.

    Eric Schmidt, chief executive, called the software "a viable, third choice in real operating systems" to stand alongside Microsoft and Apple, and a culmination of a vision he has worked on since 1983. As chief technology officer at Sun Microsystems, Schmidt was among the main proponents a decade ago of "thin clients", or machines that relied on networks for data storage and computing power rather than running their own software."This is the first step, but there's a long way to go," said Ray Valdes, an analyst at Gartner. "People will probably be concerned about compatibility and functionality - will it meet their needs?"

    One Google rival added that the company had done little to explain to computer makers and consumers how it would support the new operating system, adding to the uncertainties.

    Google first announced plans for Chrome OS a year ago and at the time said it expected the machines would be on sale by this holiday season. On Tuesday, the group said that it was still working to fix bugs in the software and that the device would not be available until the "first half" of 2011.

    The group also said it was still perfecting ways to solve one of the biggest problems faced by a new computer operating system: how to work with all the printers, cameras and other hardware devices that are plugged into them, all of which need compatible software "drivers". Problems with compatibility like this were central to the bad reception for Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system.

    Google announced a pilot programme on Tuesday to test an early version of a Chrome OS laptop and said a number of big companies would be involved in the trial. Advantages over traditional PCs included being able to make frequent updates to the operating system remotely, as well as the lack of any need to buy or maintain other software, it said.


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