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Google’s Andromeda: One OS to rule them all

Google’s new OS is expected to bring some of the desktop-like capabilities of Chrome into Android to form a super OS that will be able to compete directly with Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X.

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A version of this essay was originally published at Tech.pinions, a website dedicated to informed opinions, insight and perspective on the tech industry.

Veteran fans of thriller author Michael Crichton may recall that his career kicked into high gear with the 1969 release of a novel entitled “The Andromeda Strain.” The book described the impact of a deadly microbe strain delivered to earth from space via a military satellite.

Tomorrow in San Francisco, Google is expected to announce the release of a new strain of operating system code-named “Andromeda.” The new OS is expected to combine elements of Chrome with Android. Unlike current efforts to bring support for Android apps into Chrome, however, the new Andromeda OS is expected to bring some of the desktop-like capabilities of Chrome into Android to form a super OS that could work across smartphones, tablets and notebook-style form factors.

Though details remain sketchy, the new OS is expected to offer true multi-modal windowing, as well as a file system and other typical accoutrements for a desktop-style operating system. In essence, this means that Google’s next OS — expected to be released late this year or sometime next year — will be able to compete directly with Microsoft Windows and MacOS X.

On many levels, the development of a single Google OS is an obvious one. In fact, I (and many others) thought it was something the company needed to do a long time ago. Despite that, its impact is bound to be profound and cause a fair amount of stress and, yes, strain, for users, device makers and developers alike.

For consumers and other end users, Andromeda will first appear as yet another OS option, because Google isn’t likely to immediately drop standalone versions of Android or Chrome OS after the announcement or release of Andromeda. Over time, as the transition to Andromeda is complete, those potential concerns will fade away, and consumers, in theory at least, should get a consistent experience across devices of all shapes and sizes. This would be a clear benefit for users, because they should have access to a single set of applications, consistent access to all their data and all the other obvious benefits of combining two choices into one.

At the same time, however, the transition could end up taking several years, which is bound to cause confusion and concern for end users. Trying to choose which devices and operating systems to use, particularly as device lifetimes lengthen, could prove to be frustrating. Plus, if Google does move away from Chrome, as some have suggested, existing Chromebooks become relatively useless.

For device makers, Andromeda could represent an exciting new opportunity to sell new form factors, such as clamshell, convertible or detachable notebooks running the new OS. They may also be able to create true “pocket computers” that come in a smartphone form factor, but offer support for desktop monitors and other peripherals, similar to Microsoft’s Continuum feature for Windows 10 Mobile.

Initially, however, Andromeda is going to be more of a challenge for device makers because of their need to deal with product categories like Chromebooks, that could potentially go away. Plus, like Microsoft, Google seems to be moving aggressively toward doing its own branded hardware products, and that takes away potential market opportunities for some of its partners. At the same time, the launch of a new OS with new capabilities and new hardware requirements seems like the perfect time for Google to make a serious play into their own branded devices.

For developers, Andromeda will undoubtedly prove to be a strain for a longer period of time because of their likely need to rewrite or at least rework their applications to take full advantage of the new features and capabilities that will inevitably come with a new OS. Plus, any confusion that consumers face about which version of the different Google OSes to use will negatively impact future app sales and, potentially, development.

The launch of a new OS from a major industry player is always fraught with potential concerns, but the merger of two existing options (including the most widely used OS in the world) into a single new one heightens those concerns exponentially. As with Mr. Crichton’s book, the initial drama and tension are bound to be high, but eventually, I think we’ll see a positive ending.

Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of Technalysis Research LLC, a technology consulting and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. Reach him @bobodtech.

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