After developing the Android operating system for phones it was only a matter of time before Google would announce an operating system for computers as well - something that competes directly against Microsoft Windows, Apple OSX and all the different flavours of Linux out there.
The "why" is obvious, as people do the majority of their computing on the web these days, and Google already has the top search engine, a solid if under-utilized browser, and a whole suite of online web applications for everything from photo archiving and editing to e-mail, from calendars to word processing to spreadsheets. Google is also working on an online 3D modeling plug-in, music player, etc. to fill in the gaps in their software suite, while simultaneously releasing their code to other developers to produce third party software titles.
But while it makes sense for Google to move in this direction with an operating system - especially with the current popularity of low-tech netbooks where smaller programs are preferred, as well the general movement towards online "cloud" computing - it also makes no sense at all.
Cnet.com, an authority of sorts, tried to comprehend the Google Chrome OS strategy, and this is the best they could come up with:
"Google is after your time, not your money. It can try to get more of your time in the same ways Microsoft tries to get more of your money. Will the Chrome OS increase the time people spend in front of the computer? No, quite the opposite. There will inevitably be less to do on a Chrome OS computer than on a Mac or Windows machine. Buying a Chrome-based Netbook means giving up the chance to run most Windows games, Apple's iLife suite, and other popular software. But for Google the key is this: once you've got a Chrome system, Google's in charged of ALL the time you spend with it."
In the very next paragraph the reviewer admitted that even he didn't think that explanation was "good enough" to explain Google's intentions.
Making things even more confusing, you can run the Chrome OS environment - file managers, navigation tools, etc. - within the Google Chrome browser, so you can still run Windows or Apple's OSX in the background.
Which also makes no sense - who needs a separate operating system running in a browser that's less powerful than the operating system at work behind it?
So let's consider the money angle. For example, netbook companies - and pretty much all laptop manufacturers are making and selling netbooks these days - could hammer out exclusive rights with Google where they get a share of search engine revenue in exchange for shipping those systems with Google Chrome OS. Those netbook companies are currently spending money developing their own Linux interfaces, or purchasing licenses for scaled down versions of Windows XP - money they could save by adopting the free Google Chrome OS, while earning some revenue in the process. But at the same time they risk alienating customers that prefer Microsoft or Linux software.