Google and Apple display the corporate equivalent of dark glasses and celebrity insouciance, gaining reams of free publicity with their every move. Yet while Apple need only step on stage with a product ready for sale, Google gets attention for merely mentioning its intentions. Dominance of search, piles of cash and an army of engineers do make it too powerful to be ignored. But there is no clear reason why Microsoft should quake over Wednesday’s announcement that Google intends to launch a free, fully fledged operating system by next year.

Google’s web browser Chrome, on which the new operating system will be based, has a mere 2 per cent market share. To make the slightest dent in Microsoft’s control of the PC world, manufacturers of the netbooks at which it will be aimed will have to be persuaded to pre-install the software. As with Google’s Android operating system for mobile phones, it takes time to win allies. Although several manufacturers are developing handsets based on the software, Taiwan’s HTC is the only significant assembler so far with Android-based phones on the market.

Furthermore, the long-departed Netscape once hoped to run everything through a browser. And the much-touted shift to running computing through the internet is occurring only very slowly, with Microsoft furiously investing in the change as well. An opportunity exists in the new market for products that combine the best elements of a phone and a cheap laptop but the power of inertia should not be underestimated.

Indeed, the business world, which bought three-fifths of all computers last year, according to Gartner, values stability – which is why many IT systems still run ancient versions of Microsoft Windows in spite of other Linux-based alternatives. Google continues to chip away at Microsoft’s business but this latest move is no more than a trumpet call in that long battle.

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