Google Dumping Windows ?

June 1, 2010

Today’s Financial Times (of London) has an interesting short article reporting that Google is in the process of discontinuing use of Microsoft Windows internally.

Google is phasing out the internal use of Microsoft’s ubiquitous Windows operating system because of security concerns, according to several Google employees.

The article goes on to say that new Google employees are being given a choice, for their personal workstations, of Apple’s Mac OS X or Linux on PCs.   Historically, Windows had also been a possible choice, but the (unnamed) Google staffers quoted in the article say that, now, getting Windows requires a policy exception approved by senior management.

The stated reason for the change in policy is a reaction to the China-related hacking of Google earlier this year, an attack that supposedly exploited a flaw in Internet Explorer.  Because of its market dominance, Windows is subject to more attacks, in part, because it is a more available target; yet, having used both Windows and Linux extensively, I think it is fair to say that the basic design of Linux is more conducive to security than that of Windows.   (Since Mac OS X is based on Unix, the same considerations probably apply there, as well.)   I have not used Windows 7, but Linux is far more stable than any version of Windows I have ever used (from 3.1 through Vista).

The report is based on statements by unnamed Google staff members.  That is not really surprising; even if we assume that it is entirely true, I can’t think of any particular benefit Google would gain by starting a public slanging match with Microsoft.  The article suggests, and it seems reasonable to me, that another motivation for deprecating Windows is that Google wants to focus its attention on its own software, and especially the forthcoming Chrome OS.  If I were managing Google’s development effort, I would want my staff to be focused on and working in the real target environment, the cloud-based model on which the Chrome OS is based.

Of course, it is not going to be literally true that Google will completely drop Windows.  The fact that Windows is, at least at present, the dominant desktop operating system means that they will require Windows machines for testing for quite a long time.  To date, the Chrome Web browser has appeared first in a Windows version, and then a bit later for OS X and Linux, although Google does seem to have made some efforts to bring the versions more in sync.

Google is pursuing a vision of the future for personal computing that is fundamentally at odds with Microsoft’s existing business model.  You should remember that Microsoft makes almost all of its money in just two areas: Windows and Microsoft Office.  Both are under threat if Google’s view takes precedence.  This is going to be interesting to watch.

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