Ross Rubin (@rossrubin) contributes Switched On, a column about consumer technology.
Google's incursions into software -- particularly in strategic markets for Microsoft, are like an Earth-bound asteroid. Observers see it coming for a long time, and fear its impact will be devastating when it finally arrives. So far, though, Google's major software forays have been anything but cataclysmic, and Microsoft hasn't even had to send Bruce Willis into space to stop them.
On one hand -- as I discussed in a recent Switched On column that argued why Android was not the right choice for netbooks -- the mobile operating system continues to have a lot of potential to reshape the smartphone OS competitive landscape. On the other hand, while Chrome is a fine browser, Microsoft, Apple and Mozilla all have their counterparts, and certainly Firefox and Safari at least give Google's browser a run for its money in terms of speed, privacy and user interface. Chrome's impact has been blunted because the PC is already an open platform.
Enter Chrome OS, which will be available on ARM and Intel processors. For the high-volume Intel PC market, Chrome OS will have to take on Windows, but Chrome OS is very different than other Windows competitors such as the Mac OS, Ubuntu or the OS/2 of yore, in that Google does not seem focused on creating platform-exclusive applications. In some ways, Chrome is more of a competitor to Silverlight than to Windows, as Silverlight is Microsoft's cross-platform application foundation. Of course, Windows is Microsoft's home field, and Chrome OS will be Google's.