To Bill Gates, Google's Chrome OS looks a lot like a familiar foe: Linux.
"There's many, many forms of Linux operating systems out there and packaged in different ways and booted in different ways," Gates said in an interview with CNET News this week. "In some ways I am surprised people are acting like there's something new. I mean, you've got Android running on Netbooks. It's got a browser in it."
Gates said it was hard to really say much about Chrome OS, since Google has said so little about how it will actually work.
"The more vague they are, the more interesting it is," he said.
As for the notion that the browser needs to act more like an OS, he noted that the browser has already become an extremely broad concept, with all of the plug-ins and other things that are now done inside a browser.
"It just shows the word browser has become a truly meaningless word," Gates said. "What's a browser? What's not a browser? If you're playing a movie, is that a browser or not a browser? If you're doing annotations, is that a browser? If you're editing text, is that a browser or not a browser? In large part, it's more an abuse of terminology than a real change."
Meanwhile, CEO Steve Ballmer suggested on Tuesday that Windows, rather than a browser-centric OS was the right approach. To bolster his argument, Ballmer noted that half of PC use today is spent doing work outside the browser.
"We don't need a new operating system," Ballmer said Tuesday, as part of his keynote at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans. "What we do need to do is to continue to evolve Windows, Windows Applications, IE (Internet Explorer), the way IE works in totality with Windows and how we build applications like Office...and we need to make sure we can bring our customers and partners with us."
Ballmer and Gates also stressed the fact that Google now has two operating systems--Chrome OS and Android. Ballmer noted that Microsoft learned with the separate Windows 95 for consumers and Windows NT for businesses that having two operating systems isn't necessarily a positive thing.
"The last time I checked you don't need two client operating systems," he said. "It's good to have one."
Ballmer and Gates also echoed the note Business Division President Stephen Elop sounded in an interview with CNET News last week--that Microsoft really doesn't know what Chrome OS will look like.
"Who knows what this thing is?" Ballmer said.