When the chief of Microsoft Germany, Achim Berg, predicted in an interview in the “Berliner Zeitung” that “the free-of-cost-culture on the Internet draws to a close” last Saturday, this happened not only weeks after Microsoft had started its own, free-of-charge search engine “bing” but also only days before Google’s announcement of “Chrome OS”: A new open source operating system on top of a Linux kernel and delivered, of course, for free. On the Official Google Blog Chrome OS was announced as follows:

“[T]he operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web. So today, we’re announcing a new project […] — the Google Chrome Operating System. It’s our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be. Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks. Later this year we will open-source its code, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010. Because we’re already talking to partners about the project, and we’ll soon be working with the open source community, we wanted to share our vision now so everyone understands what we are trying to achieve.”

Is this re-opening the operating system wars of the 1980s? Is this the beginning of serious open source competition for Microsoft’s proprietary business model? In other words, are we witnessing a paradigmatic battle of open versus proprietary innovation regimes with Google and Microsoft as its most prominent antipodes? I am not so sure. But maybe the Pirate Party’s sole member in the European Parliament, Christian Engström, was right in his interesting op-ed in the Financial Times yesterday:

“The world is at a crossroads. The internet and new information technologies are so powerful that no matter what we do, society will change. But the direction has not been decided.”