The Chromium Disruption

Source: Google ImagesChristmas came early for Google fans this past week. There were a slew of very exciting announcements made by the Company including: updates to the Chrome browser, the next generation Nexus smartphone called the Nexus S and also the introduction of a new operating system aptly named Chrome OS. This final announcement is the one I took particular interest in and the purpose of this post is to explain why Chrome OS fits Clayton Christensen’s model of a disruptive innovation.

If you are not familiar with this very interesting new project by Google, the Company has set up a website for “The Chromium Project” and also has a amazingly simple overview video on YouTube. Additionally, if you are not familiar with the idea of a disruptive innovation, Professor Christensen’s website offers a fantastic summary of the key concept. Christensen wrote an article in the Spring 2002 issue of the Sloan Management Review called, “Foundations for Growth - How to identify and build disruptive new businesses” with two colleagues, Mark W. Johnson and Darrell K. Rigby. In this article the authors discuss two tests for an innovation that would disrupt the market from the low end. Here are the tests and Google’s answers to those tests:

  1. Are prevailing products more than good enough? - If you haven’t already done so, I’d take 3 minutes to watch the YouTube video I mentioned earlier before reading on. The video explains how a lot of people who have computers use the browser application the most, compared to the variety of other applications they own. This begs a simple question... are our current operating systems more than good enough? Just think for a minute...when was the last time you used more than let’s say five applications on yourSource: Google Images computer? Perhaps if you a programmer or media developer of some sort then it is likely that you use many applications all the time. However, for the general population, Google’s argument is that a browser is really all you need. In some ways, I agree. If I can do everything in one application that I normally do using five applications... then why not switch? 
  2. Can you create a different business model? - Although Google has not yet announced a pricing model for this new OS (combined with the new hardware that the OS will run on)... here is something to consider: What if, Google and its partners gave away the hardware for free and instead... charged money for additional software? Yes, I know, it is very drastic and probably unrealistic but still a very intriguing thought. Google is known for its advertising prowess, so could the Company introduce an ad-supported ... computer? If it does, it would certainly have created a different business model, at least in the computer hardware market. 

Final Thoughts - Google’s Chromium project has the potential to be a very disruptive force to industry incumbents Microsoft and Apple (the former being the bigger of the two in terms of OS market share). A lot of factors have yet to come into play, so only time will tell how disruptive Chrome OS will be but... if you look at what Android is doing in the mobile market... it may not be so hard to imagine what Chrome will do in the OS market.