Microsoft executives seem to be watching industry speculation around Google's new Chrome OS with an amused sort of detachment.
In a Q&A session Tuesday at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer responded to questions about Chrome OS in the same way one might respond to the distant buzzing of a fly that has found its way into the room.
"Who knows what this thing is. To me Chrome OS is highly interesting. It won't happen for a year and a half, and they've already announced an operating system [Android]." Ballmer said. "I don't know if they can't make up their mind or what the problem is over there. The last time I checked, you don't need two client operating systems."
Chrome OS, an open-source system that initially will be targeted at netbooks, has been designed as a fast, lightweight and secure way to find information online. Google says Chrome OS is a separate project from its Android OS for mobile devices but has acknowledged that there is some overlap between the two.
Microsoft's model of the future combines rich client Windows-style applications and "some things that people consider the best of the Web," which will continue to emerge from Microsoft continuing to evolve Windows and Windows applications, Ballmer said.
"We don't need a new operating system. What we need is an operating system that brings local richness together with the Internet, and Windows is the OS for the job," Ballmer said.
Stephen Elop, president of the Microsoft Business Division, echoed Ballmer's bemusement with Chrome OS in an interview this week at WPC. "We get asked a lot about Chrome OS, and I don't know what it is," Elop said. "Who knows? It's a press release, it's all interesting."
Elop said one lesson that OS vendors in heterogeneous environments have learned is that there are many different elements that need to be integrated in a way that's beneficial to customers. "An OS is obviously a fundamental piece of technology, and as the requirements for it broaden, the complexity that emerges is substantial. It's a real engineering challenge," Elop said.
Google's vagueness around Chrome OS has led some analysts to wonder if the search giant is taking a page from the Microsoft playbook by chumming the waters with fear, uncertainty and doubt. But at WPC at least, Microsoft executives are doing their best to deflect Chrome's shine.