There's an old joke that if airliners had advanced as quickly as computers, they would now fly faster than the speed of light -- but crash twice a week. Microsoft Windows is powerful and comprehensive, say users, but it's also very complicated.
So enter Google, which says it is working on the Google Chrome Operating System. It will be meant, initially, for netbooks -- the inexpensive mini-laptop machines that are gaining popularity because of their price and their simplicity -- but will expand after that. It will be free.
Microsoft does not need to be told to take note. The company had no comment today.
"We hear a lot from our users and their message is clear -- computers need to get better," Sundar Pichai and Linus Upson, the two Google managers running the project, said in a post on Google's blog. "People want to get to their e-mail instantly, without wasting time waiting for their computers to boot and browsers to start up.
"They want their computers to always run as fast as when they first bought them.
"They want their data to be accessible to them wherever they are and not have to worry about losing their computer or forgetting to back up files."
Most important, Google said, people want something simple, so that they don't have to update their machines whenever they plug into a new printer or there's some software fix.
'Simple, Secure, Reliable'
Google said the new operating system will be loosely based on the company's Chrome Web browser, which 30 million people have already downloaded for free. It is a relatively small program, billed as very fast at loading a Web page, and it doesn't take up much space on a computer's hard drive.
A source at the company, asking not to be identified, said the Google operating system will be a different way of thinking about how a computer works. Most of the work you do, if you have it, will be online. You won't need to use a word processor or other program stored in your machine. "People spending five minutes booting up a machine, opening two applications, just to check for one e-mail -- that's silly," the source said.
There are downsides for Google, though.
"We tend to be a very stubborn race," said Rob Enderle, a prominent technology consultant. "We don't move to new things very readily."
Google Chrome Operating System: Windows Killer?
People are comfortable with their computer configurations, imperfect as they may be, Enderle said. He said Google would have to market its system heavily, something it doesn't do well.
"This is really easy to 'FUD,'" he said, referring to the shorthand for "Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt."
There is no saying -- especially because it doesn't exist yet -- whether Google will be able to make a significant dent in the market for computer software. At the moment, about 89 percent of computers run on Windows; another 10 percent on Apple's operating system, and about 1 percent on the free system Linux.
"It's way too early to tell if Google could hurt Windows, but it's definitely a threat," said Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of the Search Engine Land Web site.
"It might not be for everyone, but it does feel like a trend developing, and this helps put Google even more firmly in advance of that."
The Google operating system, like Linux, will be "open source," meaning that anyone versed in computer programming can fiddle with it, or contribute ideas for it. You'll find computer manufacturers selling you netbooks that run on it, and possibly advertising that their prices are lower because they're not paying a fee to Microsoft. Or, if you like, you'll be able to download it, at no charge.
And -- oh, by the way -- Google says it has no intention of losing money in the process. Its main revenue comes from the ads you see when you search for something through its Web site. "And any time our users have a better computing experience, Google benefits as well by having happier users who are more likely to spend time on the Internet," the company said.