Google's ambiguous blog post on its upcoming Chrome OS definitely caught the attention of the industry. With little concrete information forthcoming from the Googleplex, most of the speculation has focused on the threat the Chrome OS poses to Microsoft. This does make sense, after all, Google still makes most of its money from advertising. By getting an OS out there which they have more control over, Google can lessen the potential of someone on the client side doing something which gets in the way of their ad businesses.
Still, I think this analysis is missing an important point. While Google and Microsoft are definitely competitors, at least publicly both companies swear fealty to web standards when dealing with web delivered information. As web apps become more popular, there is a move in the industry to create standard APIs for devices to use with web apps, and I think Chrome OS really could be aimed to influence these standards. And, the announcement of Chrome OS may have been triggered not by Microsoft, but by, of all people, Palm.
What's going on is this. With the rise of techniques for using web standards based technology to create usable client side apps, it's now apparent these apps can be just as useful as most native client apps. However, the problem is standards based web apps have to run in the browser. More and more web app developers are chafing at the constraints the typical browser "sandbox" imposes on the client local resources the web app can use. So, the W3C has started up activity around coming up with standards for APIs for web apps. This activity is being lead by the W3C's Device APIs and Policy Working Group. Should this work bear fruit, you can see a future where it should be possible to build an OS using a kernel combined with web standards based APIs.
Throw into this mix Palm's webOS. webOS is what I take Google is aiming for, an OS which relies entirely on web standard tech for all of it's apps. As the W3C continues to deliberate around standards for web app APIs, with webOS they now have working code being shipped into the market as an example to work off of. In a recent interview, Palm's Senior Vice President, Applications Software & Services, Michael Abbott mentioned that Palm didn't want to continue down a proprietary path. "This is work we anticipate on sharing (Abbott)."
With webOS now out there for the W3C to consider, can Google afford to allow Palm to get a leadership position? The Chrome OS blog post may have been their answer.