Chrome OS: 3 reasons it matters, 4 reasons it's irrelevant

Chrome OS: 3 reasons it matters, 4 reasons it's irrelevant

Summary: Google has finally announced its long-expected operating system, the Chrome OS. Here's what we know about it, plus my take on both why it matters and why it could turn out to be irrelevant.

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No one is surprised Google announced last week that it is building an operating system. It's been one of the worst kept secrets in the technology world that Google has long desired to build an OS to take a shot at the Microsoft Windows monopoly. In the wake of the announcement, Google CEO Eric Schmidt even admitted that Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have wanted to build a Web browser and operating system for years, but Schmidt initially opposed the idea and only recently gave in.

Google's idea is to essentially create a thin client operating system for consumers. This is not going to have a big impact on IT departments and businesses, many of which are experimenting with Windows-based thin client solutions such as VDI. However, IT pros should understand Chrome OS because you can be sure some workers will try to bring it into the business.

Thus, let's take a look at the few details we know about the Chrome OS at this point, and then look at the reasons why it will matter and the reasons why it may turn out to be virtually irrelevant.

Here's what we know

  • It will run with a Linux kernel as its base
  • It will boot directly into the Chrome Web browser
  • It will be aimed primarily at netbooks
  • It will run on both x86 and ARM processors
  • It will not be designed to have local storage; all data will be stored in the cloud
  • Google will not entice developers to build software to run on the Chrome OS; instead, they want them to build Web apps that will run on any standards-based browser
  • The three most important features will be "speed, simplicity and security," according to Google
  • Google will release the software to the open source community before the end of 2009
  • Announced Chrome OS hardware partners: Acer, Adobe, ASUS, Freescale, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and Toshiba.
  • Netbooks running Chrome OS will be available in the second half of 2010

This is Google's official explanation of the problems that it is trying to solve with Chrome OS:

People want to get to their email instantly, without wasting time waiting for their computers to boot and browsers to start up. They want their computers to always run as fast as when they first bought them. They want their data to be accessible to them wherever they are and not have to worry about losing their computer or forgetting to back up files. Even more importantly, they don't want to spend hours configuring their computers to work with every new piece of hardware, or have to worry about constant software updates. And any time our users have a better computing experience, Google benefits as well by having happier users who are more likely to spend time on the Internet.

Three reasons why it matters

3. Because Windows needs more competition Nearly two decades after Microsoft Windows conquered the PC, very few real challenges have been mounted against its dominance. Long-time rival Apple Macintosh has recently had a resurgence, but it's still hovering at less than 10% of the total market. This market is ripe for innovation and a new competitor. In many quarters, Windows fatigue has set in, especially in the notoriously price-conscious consumer market and in light of the Vista debacle. The virus, spyware, and security troubles of Windows are its biggest weaknesses and Google is wise to target those soft spots with Chrome OS.

2. Because Chrome OS will be cheap Google has confirmed that the Chrome OS will be open source and will not have any licensing fees. That will enable Chrome OS-based netbooks to be cheaper than both Windows-based netbooks and ARM-based smartbooks from Qualcomm. Plus, once we start talking about nettops, it's entirely possible that we could see a $100 PC (without monitor) running the Chrome OS.

1. Because it's from Google Google is the 800-pound gorilla of the Internet. Because of its brand strength and star power, it's always a big deal when Google enters new markets. Nothing that Google does will go unnoticed or fail simply because it didn't get enough exposure.

Four reasons why it's virtually irrelevant

4. It's running Linux So is 2010 going to be the year of Linux on the desktop since Chrome OS is based on Linux? Every year for the past decade was supposed to be "The Year of Linux on the Desktop." It hasn't happened and it's not because it was an idea ahead of its time or it needed a stronger champion. The mass market has rejected Linux on the desktop. Linux is nothing more (or less) than a niche OS loved by a loyal group of highly-technical users. Even Google can't change that, unless it's prepared to write Linux device drivers for all of the world's printers, digital cameras, keyboards, and mice.

3. It's too late By the time Chrome OS is released, Windows 7 will be everywhere (at least in the consumer market) and Mac OS X will be faster and simpler with the release of Snow Leopard. If Google really wanted to make a powerful entrance into the OS market, the time to do it would have been mid-2007 when it was obvious that Windows Vista was a failure and it would take Microsoft a couple years to fix it. The opportunity for an OS to make a major impact on the PC market has passed. The OS just isn't that important anymore. Windows and Mac both do a pretty good job of making the OS get out of the way as quickly and easily as possible. Chrome OS probably won't be able to do that because it will start out with massive device driver incompatibilities with PC accessories.

2. Google hasn't proven it can build an OS Google hasn't exactly knocked anyone's socks off with Android, its mobile OS. While Android has potential and still has time to develop, it feels like beta software in a market that demands greater "finish" and attention to detail (see iPhone and Palm Pre). Plus, Android itself was originally touted to be a netbook OS. Therefore, the release of Chrome OS is a de facto indictment against Android, despite the fact that Google executives have tried to downplay it. Maybe Google has realized that the Java software sitting on top of a Linux codebase in Android would have severe performance limitations on a PC. Whatever the case may be, the fact that Google will have overlapping netbook operating systems does not inspire a lot of confidence that Google knows what it's doing in the OS market or has a sound strategy.

1. It's limited to netbooks So here's the skinny on netbooks. They have two great features: They are small and cheap. They also have two big drawbacks: They are terrible and a lot of consumers regret buying them (verified by a recent NPD survey). The consumer backlash against netbooks has already begun and by the time we see Chrome OS netbooks from Google's hardware partners in the second half of 2010, the netbook phenomenon will either have retreated into the background or morphed into something better. And then Google will have to scramble to make Chrome OS available on a wider variety of notebook computers, as well as on nettops.

For more insights on Google, Chrome OS, and other tech topics, follow my Twitter stream at twitter.com/jasonhiner

Topics: Mobility, Android, Google, Hardware, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

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205 comments
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  • It's the applications that'll be built

    that'll make or break it.

    If developers come up with enough useful applications then it might have a market.

    That said, have you ever tried to get data out of Google's AppEngine, out through Google's Web Toolkit (GWT) and back into the BigTable. What a complete time-wasting PITA.

    If Google can't get their great ideas to work together (AppEngine + GWT + Gears + the various data apis), then Chrome is surely doomed.
    javajunkie@...
    • Agreed: it all about the developers

      Perhaps THE one thing MS knew and did correct from the start is MARKET TO THE DEVELOPERS (maybe because MS was started by developers). No one has a clue what will happen with Chrome, because no one knows who will write for it. You can build a fantastic freeway, but if no one wants to travel on it (doesn't go where they want to go), who cares? But a dirt road leading to downtown is a well-worn path.
      lalogos
      • The Stack

        It's about the core business and the stack that
        supports it. Google is about search, and better
        search experiences requires a better search engine,
        the search engine runs from the browser and the
        browser runs from the OS. So if there was a high
        performance browser / OS combo that enabled a
        higher performance search engine which resulted in
        better searches. Would you depend on the
        competition to provide that for you??? Or would you
        control your own destiny and provide it yourself???
        Really???
        bigpicture
    • Ironically so ...

      ChromeOS thinks users will move to cloud-based applications but just look at the smartphone market. It is designed to bring the web to cellphone users but the most successful smartphones are those with lots of downloadable applications available. Just watch a typical iPhone ad and you know this is true. And it's not limited to the iPhone. There are thousands of applications for Palm smartphones and just about everything ported to the Palm or to Windows Mobile is also ported to the RIM BlackBerry.

      To succeed, ChromeOS will have to offer the same functionality - whether on the device or in the clouds.
      M Wagner
    • Even more basic...

      If it doesn't get any high-end games, it'll never
      penetrate the home market. That's why Mac has a
      very small market share in the home, and linux is
      virtually unheard of.
      jedidethfreak
  • If you want to see where Google Chrome OS is going

    Go to <a href="http://www.click2try.com/">Click2Try</a>

    Subscribe, click Ubuntu 'to try'.

    Then open a terminal window and type:

    $netstat -anp | grep ESTAB

    You will see that VNC is running in loopback.

    In a similar way, Google Chrome OS will present all of the Linux desktop metaphors using a 'fork' of Nomachine's GPL's FreeNX, called 'neatx'.

    There will be minimal metadata stored on the Netbook.

    But it will be a Thin Client to the Data in the Cloud--Google's Cloud in this case.

    For the millions of Google Gmail and Google Apps account holders this will be a 'no brainer'.

    Those who feel less inclined to store their personal data on the net will require some convincing, but there will be
    plenty of application development vis a vis the browser's canvas to have all of the 'rich cient' functionality that fat client users are accustomed to.

    Everything will paint on the browser canvas, Java applets and all comers.

    That's what I think. YessireeBob.

    Thank you Jason.

    Dietrich T. Schmitz
    • Nothing you say has ever happened

      So why do you think you're going to be right now? MS will support Office Live on Chrome OS and it will beat Apps into the ground. Google will be left with no revenue stream off the OS so they will abandon it and let it die.

      A bootable web browser is the future? Please...
      LiquidLearner
      • Thin Client to the Data Center is alive and well

        This is a broader scope and businesses have an opportunity to get their 'cost centers' under control by moving away from fat client solutions.

        Consumers will embrace because they'll have a device to use anywhere and be assured their data is safe in the Cloud with Google Apps all via Thin Client.

        Thanks LiquidLearner for your solidarity.
        <i style="display:block;height:1px;width:1px;overflow:hidden;background:url(&#104;ttp://www.dtschmitz.com/dts/1.png)">.</i>
        Dietrich T. Schmitz
        • Dietrich...

          your naivety outstands me!
          nessrapp
          • Rehehehheheheheheeally?

            Well tell me then. What theory do you have for why Google chose to 'fork' FreeNX with their project 'neatx'?

            Do you think they are doing it for internal use?

            Neatx is a Thin Client.

            I've used NoMachine NX for years, so I knoweth of what I speaketh when it comes to Thin Client with Linux.

            <i style="display:block;height:1px;width:1px;overflow:hidden;background:url(&#104;ttp://www.dtschmitz.com/dts/1.png)">.</i>
            Dietrich T. Schmitz
          • if you were logically minded..

            the first question you should have asked is "what about what I said did you find naive?" or something similar..

            here is what you said that i found quite or very naive:

            "Consumers will embrace because they'll have a device to use anywhere and be assured their data is safe in the Cloud with Google Apps all via Thin Client."

            It seems to me that that statement in itself is one that wasn't well thought out..
            I can understand that you are happy about the idea, but don't think everyone smokes the same spliff like you do...

            something someone could do on their local netbook will or may no longer be possible, now they'll have to get on the internet, but what if they cannot get on the internet, let's say they need a data plan, a 2yr subsription at about $50 a month or ?20 a month? If you were a teenager that still depends on the parents for money, the cost will go out of control..


            that is just one, out of many reasons or scenarios... I shall not reply anymore but think about that for a minute
            nessrapp
          • Which do you think is worse?

            Having temporary access to your data on the net cut off or
            Having your netbook stolen with all of your sensitive personal data on it

            All things being equal, on average everyone is connected to the net *somehow*. That exacts a cost.

            But the shift is from fat to thin and data is in the Cloud in a very secure manner.

            <i style="display:block;height:1px;width:1px;overflow:hidden;background:url(&#104;ttp://www.dtschmitz.com/dts/1.png)">.</i>
            Dietrich T. Schmitz
          • Personal Crap

            Grow up!!! What is this personal off topic opinionated
            crap all the time. If you want to throw shit at the wall
            go somewhere else. I come here to read informed
            technical opinions.
            bigpicture
          • @bigpicture

            No childish trolling, please!
            Isocrates
          • LOL - nt

            nt
            TheBottomLineIsAllThatMatters
          • "Stolen" vs. "temporarily off line"

            Dietrich seems to believe that a thin client that stores data in the cloud is better than a fat client with local storage because a "fat client" (mobile device) can be stolen, and with it all data and apps. Well, he misses your point that in the minds of many (or most), data stored in the cloud is, by definition, ALREADY STOLEN.
            lalogos
          • Already stolen...

            ...that's the exact point.
            arcebus@...
          • @arcebus

            Trolls make accusations without evidence or facts.
            Isocrates
          • False Perception

            There's nothing insecure about the Cloud.

            If an incompetent individual doesn't follow good practices for securing any site, it's just less than secure.

            It's a matter of semantics to see how data can be secured in a traditional data center is no different from how that process occurs in the Cloud.

            It's a false perception and demonstrates a general lack of understanding to believe that data in the cloud is already stolen or any less save than data found in a data center.

            <i style="display:block;height:1px;width:1px;overflow:hidden;background:url(&#104;ttp://www.dtschmitz.com/dts/1.png)">.</i>
            Dietrich T. Schmitz
          • Emperors new clothes?

            And how do you play games on it. Or edit video. Which is why FAT OS will still be around, and why ChromeOS will NOT displace it.

            Its a nice utopian dream, we wander around clutching netbooks with our data on tap.

            However, there are at least two achilles heels:

            1. Without an internet connection, to access data, the netbook is worthless, just another 1kg of deadweight. ChromeOS is wholly dependant on that network link, which may not be available. The world is somewhat larger than you in your wi-fi enabled workspace, homespace, commuter lane. Very much larger. Most of Africa has no internet access. And large parts of the world have no wi-fi.

            2. Once you go beyond low-resources applications, thin-client is useless. Sure, you can run a WP or spreadsheet in a browser applet. Or an SAP front end, etc etc. Can you run a video editing program in a browser? How does one get the source video to the cloud? Via a slow 448kb dsl uplink? All 25GB of 1hours SD res DV? And one presumably pays for cloud storage by the GB, so thats 25GB for the source, 15-50GB for scratch, and 4GB for the target DVD image. Then download that DVD image to...? I think that amptly illustrates a major shortcoming.

            And its Linux. So it aint really an OS in its own right, its simply another distro.
            alewisa