Chrome OS: More questions than answers?

Summary:Chrome OS, while a brilliant idea, could be horrendously flawed. There seem to be more questions than answers at this stage. Why?

Hearing the news of Google's Chrome OS at the end of last week left me with an uneasy feeling about the future of operating systems and computer use.

The general idea behind Chrome OS is that the operating system as you see it will be nothing more than a web browser with a few things plugged into it, and a massively slimmed down operating system which will load in a fraction of the average time taken with existing products.

But even as a man who looks towards the next generation, this doesn't sit too well with me. Not only did the announcements and the coverage seem to ask more questions than give answers, but Chrome OS also seems to exclude a very important market - students.

Students won't be able to take their laptops everywhere as they can now without access to the web. Students can't live entirely in the cloud, which I've already proved once before, even though many university campuses are blanketed with a cloud of wireless signals. And even then, not all students should be able to anyway with applications which are absolutely necessary to run on desktop computers.

To start off, take a spare ten minutes and watch the videos that Jason Perlow added to his blog just before the weekend which will brief you on the latest.

Bandwidth issues

Everything is stored in the cloud is accessed through the web. Even the "applications" such as the calculator and the calendar - simple desktop applications for Windows and Mac OS X - but not for Chrome.

If you have no Internet, I have no idea how Chrome OS would even turn on. Perhaps it's like the Chrome browser, which works offline with Google Gears enabled sites. But that's hardly optimal. Will the Chrome OS work where the is no Internet access on the road, on a plane or train (at least in the United Kingdom anyway) or even sitting out in a park in the city. Sure you could use a wireless 3G card or your phone modem but this will cost a lot to run an entire operating system.

And what if the damned broadband goes down? This is something I seem to face quite a bit and frankly, without access to the Internet, the Chrome-specific device just becomes a very expensive paperweight.

Lack of compatibility for non-Google users

Looking over at some of the gallery pictures of the new operating system, there is clearly an effort to branch out to the most popular services, even those outside Google such as Hotmail, Hulu and Pandora.

However, even with these, those using Outlook Web Access or Exchange will suffer to get a full experience by using a non-Microsoft browser. If you decide to use another email service, or calendar - maybe a different music service. Why are you limited to these? Please at least give us the opportunity to add new ones and delete the ones there.

Provided they are there as from-install only, just to get you started, that should be fine.

What about the hardware then?

The BBC say rightfully that all of the user data and settings will be stored on Google's servers. With this, there will be nothing on the hard drive (whether there will even be one or not), and the hardware will be basic. But there aren't any specifics about hardware devices yet.

We all know components in computers range from hard drives, networking controllers, optical and removable media. We don't even know yet whether these will be included. If there's no "desktop", how do you transfer things? Directly from removable media to the web? Has that ever been done before?

Throwing in the antitrust card (again)

Google this, Google that, throw in a bit of YouTube and it's still Google. Yes there are a few applications in there which isn't orientated around the search giant's products, but the vast majority are Google related or owned. As I wrote a few months back:

"Why can’t Microsoft ship a Windows edition without including a browser (or at least come under fire from a zillion lawsuits) yet Google can? And with this, Google is entirely contradicting itself by doing something it opposed Microsoft from doing. Just because they have a smaller market share doesn’t exempt them from the practice."

You can read the article in full here.

So...?

Here, it just seems that we're walking into uncharted territory in that these concepts have never been done before. I knew an operating system and similar experiences would all be one day web based after speaking to the UX chief at Mozilla Labs. But now it's here, it's still difficult to quantify the grasp of these ideas.

Leave a comment and make my day.

Topics: Software, Browser, Google, Hardware, Operating Systems

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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