What started as a revolutionary search engine has expanded into the web 2.0 scene, gracing the Internet with its slick design, streaming video services, social networking portals, and an abundance of online facilities.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the Internet is serious business for advertisers, and Google has taken advantage of its significant online presence with its largely successful Adsense advertising. The omnipotent nature of Google in the online arena gives it a financial and influential advantage over its competition - while competitors (notably Microsoft) scamper to take a foothold in this online phenomenon, attempting to snatch some of the revenue pie and make up what little ground they can on Google.

It’s this online dominance that Google can use to step into the world of operating systems. And it will likely revolve around cloud technology.

Firstly let us explain the concept of ‘cloud computing’. In the future - and to an extent at this very moment - vast amounts of servers will be harnessed to store personal media, software, and documents in what is known as the ‘cloud’. The purpose of the cloud is to create an environment where any PC will be a portal to your personal data via the Internet medium.

An example is Photoshop Express; albeit cut down, it’s an online version of Photoshop image manipulation software. As time progresses, software will continually port to online equivalents. The advantage being that alongside your documents, you can access everything you need from the Internet, and synchronise information (such as calendars) between devices (such as PDAs and laptops) across the globe. Google is in a prime position to promote the cloud concept, and what better way to tackle the emerging market than producing a dedicated cloud OS?

There are several possibilities that could be explored with a Google cloud OS, such as a desktop OS, U3 OS, or basic client software.

Picture an OS where the desktop (which you can access anywhere) is a portal to all your online documents, software and appointments. In terms of useability, that would be great for transferring between different PCs without the requirement of moving across data. Now what if Google took advantage of the influx of inexpensive flash media, and produced an OS that runs off a USB flash drive, perhaps in the form of U3? Now the user has complete control over the host system, with pre-configured settings and client software to access online data.

That is the future, and that’s where Google should be focusing. Producing an OS is nothing short of complex, and despite the budding minds of Google’s R&D team, it’s not likely that Google would want to start from scratch. However, there are multitudes of open source OSs that are readily available for modification. By altering an existing Linux distribution, the functionality and GUI of the OS would have a greater amount of development time, meaning an overall better product.

Building on top of the cloud based foundation; Google would be wise to take an approach similar to that of their Android mobile OS. Users want a simple customisable OS that is suitable for a novice and can be altered to cater for a seasoned professional. Although there are limitations to what a portable OS can achieve, an option to install a fully-fledged version onto a hard drive wouldn’t go astray. A simple quick-loading OS for USB flash drives, and a Linux based fully featured distribution for the desktop, would make it a very attractive option. Essential features of the OS would include WiMAX, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support, Firefox/Opera, Silverlight/Flash and a simple GUI to access online services.

But as with most ideas, there are flaws, and one of these is due to the current pricing structure of ISPs and their data limits.

The cloud relies on the Internet (which itself means that no Internet = no productivity), and as most are aware, Australia doesn’t offer unlimited downloads on all plans like America and Canada. Until we get large data quotas, the feasibility of the cloud is limited to a select few countries (mind you, with those countries being America and some of the other large nations, it wouldn’t stop Google). Furthermore, basing an OS off software and documents that depend on online servers may pose security risks such as loss or hijacking of data.

So how will this concept tackle the likes of Linux, Mac and Windows? The fact of the matter is it probably won’t. Firstly, it would be wise to use Linux in the development of the ‘Google OS’. Secondly, Apple and Microsoft could easily produce similar products for their OSs. In fact, rumour is that Windows are already working on a cloud based OS. Regardless, Google wouldn’t have to pioneer the concept. They should be happy for Microsoft or Apple to do it. After all, they didn’t pioneer the search engine or email, they just did it better.

By making it easy to transport software, documents, and a mini cloud OS via USB, a Google cloud OS could lead to a cult following and a new niche in Google’s favour. Yes, there’s already software such as Portable Apps, but we’re talking about a fully featured OS you can boot off, or use embedded into Windows/MacOS. Having the OS being capable of embedding into an existing platform makes it easier to implement, and gives the user piece of mind.

Whatever the future holds for Google, it’s bound to be innovative, free, and based on the Internet. They had the ideas, and now they have the name, you can bet that their next big project will make some serious waves.

It won’t be long until we have portable PCs capable of matching the most powerful desktops - purely because the software runs off-site on web servers - perhaps, using Google OS. More PlayStation 3 News...