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Can Chrome Help Your Startup Shine?

Google's new operating system has serious small-business potential.

First it was a web browser. Then it became an operating system. But look a step further, and it's not hard to see how Google's Chrome could potentially become the springboard for an entirely new generation of entrepreneurs.

Like all operating systems, Chrome aims to be the platform through which you interface with your PC and access all your programs and file. But upon arriving in the second half of 2010, Chrome OS--which will initially be targeted at netbooks --will also introduce several innovations. Case in point: Unlike previous operating systems, whose origins all predate the web, Chrome, which is completely free to all and runs on top of a Linux kernel, is putting online functionality first. Google's argument is essentially that the web isn't simply part of how we interface with computers today, but rather the nexus of the entire experience. As such, users will be able to quickly boot their desktop or notebook systems, go online and seamlessly integrate with an array of cloud computing applications.

These applications, accessible via any web browser and capable of providing access to similar functions as traditional word processing, spreadsheet and database packages, have several advantages over typical software suites. For one, they're accessible nearly anywhere. So long as you have a web browser handy, you can call up all your data on demand, making it possible to bring the office everywhere you go. Information is also stored off-site at a presumably secure location, preventing against local hard drive failure or lightning frying your PC. Content can further be shared and updated in real time across multiple computers, letting colleagues seamlessly collaborate on projects, without accidentally duplicating efforts or inadvertently working at cross purposes. System requirements are low, too, with most of the serious number-crunching done on host systems, not your humble desktop, eliminating the need to invest in expensive hardware. All of which, of course, presents an opportunity to fill a gaping market void by forward-thinking business owners.

For example: Audience size for software programs has often been limited by several mitigating factors, none of the least of which is the countless system configurations in existence. In other words, every single PC out there is essentially its own unique entity, and capable of featuring a dizzying array of hardware and software components, complete with countless individual points of failure. It's the reason so many software programs come with minimum requirements printed on the box, which--even if met--may not guarantee 100 percent compatibility with one's system.

Previously, when companies built software packages, projected sales would always be constrained by how many systems reportedly met these basic hardware necessities, and programs' scope was designed accordingly. Now, Google is actively urging developers to use the web as a standardized platform for application development that's compatible with any garden-variety internet browser. So, by proxy, Chrome also inherently boosts the size of business owners' potential market by several degrees of magnitude, freeing entrepreneurs to focus primarily on building innovative, high-quality products, the majority of which can be packaged and sold without any need for download or installation. Total these enhancements, and small business owners suddenly have access to a much wider playing field where specific cloud computing applications can be designed by teams of one or 100 to meet virtually any need or scope.

Cloud computing isn't new, with services like Zoho suite, Google Docs and Gmail already popular among modern professionals. But they're still in the infancy stage, with plenty of opportunity remaining to address a growing variety of customer needs, and experiment with new free-, flat fee- or project-/subscription-based business models. Given Google's sizable marketing might behind it, consider the following as well. Unlike other spins on Linux (the much-celebrated, yet still largely esoteric OS that's long played distant second to Microsoft's Windows among everyday shoppers), Chrome might just bridge the gap, and turbo-charge widespread mainstream adoption in the process.

While threatening to revolutionize how computer users think about and interact with their PCs, therein lies the possibility that should have entrepreneurs salivating. Because rather than having to design software products and services for specific operating systems and hardware configurations, soon you'll be able to design them in more flexible, scalable and cost-efficient ways than ever before and--most important--for a wider range of customers than has ever been within virtual reach.

Technology and small-business expert Scott Steinberg is the CEO of high-tech consulting firm TechSavvy Global. He's a business keynote speaker who frequently appears on broadcast networks such as ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and CNN.
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