After yesterday's Google Chrome OS announcement I've had a little time to think about Google's vision for the OS and how it fits in with Windows, Mac and Linux.
There's a lot I like about Chrome OS because it sound different enough and radical enough to maybe get people thinking a little differently about what an OS is and how it relates, how to secure it, how it interacts with the hardware and how the user interacts with the it. Certainly the way that Google plans to make Chrome OS speedier and more secure shows that there's been a lot of out of the box thinking going on.
Note: What was interesting at yesterday's announcement was that during the Q&A session at the end how many of the tech press questions and comments seemed to want to drag the project back from being radical and make it into what we already have,
For example, take changes to the boot sequence ...
... verified boot ...
... and how easy it is to re-image the OS following malware or corruption ...
There's also tight integration with Google's massive array of online apps. Now, depending on how you view Google this can either be a good thing or a very bad thing. However, it's hard to deny that a machine where all your data and settings are synced to the cloud for both storage and security is a very interesting way to mitigate data and system loss disasters. The idea that your data isn't tied to a particular system is interesting, and the idea that all local data is encrypted is also very interesting.
I also like the fact that Google has made the project truly open source and is allowing outside developer involvement. Actually, I think it's been done at exactly the right time too - some of the framework has been put in place, but now the project can evolve. It'll be interesting to see where it goes.
It's not all good stuff.
First, Chrome OS is basically one big Google vehicle, pushing Google's online services. If you like Gmail, Docs and so on, great, if you don't, well, Chrome really isn't for you. That's not to say that you can't use other online services for some things, but overall Chrome OS ties you into Google in many ways.
Another problem is that Google isn't looking at Chrome OS as software, but as netbooks loaded with Chrome OS as products. Sound familiar? Yeah, sounds an awful lot like Apple. It sounds like getting Chrome OS to run on standard desktops, laptops and notebooks isn't a priority for Google, so people wanting to take the OS for a spin will need to do some legwork. That said, the OS is open source, so people are free to tinker and make changes. But at the announcement there was a lot of talk of OEMs and reference hardware, so this isn't an OS that you download and install to replace your current OS.
Note: Google isn't touting Chrome OS devices as a desktop replacement, more a web-based "companion" device.
Chrome OS sounds like it revolves heavily on having near constant access to the web, which even today with WiFi and 3G networks, isn't always possible. Google seems to be building in features that allow you to use Chrome OS devices standalone, but this sounds like it caters for rare instances when the device is not hooked up to the web, rather than long periods.
Also, since Chrome OS is so reliant on Google web pass, if/when Google Docs of Gmail or Voice of whatever has a bad day, you're left twiddling your thumbs.
Then there's the fact that all this stuff is untested. Even with a year to go until we see Chrome OS on hardware, things could go horribly wrong. There's plenty of scope for bugs, security issues and data loss.
How Chrome OS fits in with Windows/Mac/Linux
It's interesting that Chrome OS doesn't represent a direct threat to Windows, Mac or Linux because the OS can't be downloaded and installed onto existing systems. However, given that Google is earmarking netbookesque form factor devices to get the Chrome OS treatment, this still means that Google could capture market share from both Windows and Mac, especially those looking for a simple, fuss-free web-based solution.
Bottom line is price. How well (or badly) Chrome OS does seem to me to be down to how much the devices will cost. If they're priced on par with Windows-based netbooks then it's hard to see how to make it relevant enough to gain critical mass. But if the price is right, then who knows what might happen.
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