Chrome OS: More questions than answers?

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.


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

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  • Missed the point (aka Chrome OS *does not need* an internet connection)

    I think you (and many, many others) are totally missing the point of
    HTML5 (something, as I'm sure you're aware, Google is heavily behind).
    One of HTML5's main features is support for building applications that
    can work both offline and online. While there are admittedly few web
    apps doing this right now, HTML5 is an extremely new technology (at
    least as measured by the glacial pace of the W3), whose adoption is
    mainly hampered by poor browser support right now... clearly
    something Google is working to address with Chrome.

    If you're interested, I'd suggest taking a look at the W3's specifications
    for offline web applications. Heck, I'd suggest doing a modicum of
    research on some basic technologies (which are in-your-face in any of
    Google's talks) before publishing articles eviscerating Google for trying
    to move the web forward in, let's face it, a direction it's going with or
    without their intervention.

    Aside from that, Google Gears (as I see you mentioned) also provides
    full support for building offline applications, and Gears is fully
    supported in Chrome OS. I don't understand what you see as "sub-
    optimal" about this, though? websites built to take advantage of this
    will still be accessible in the absence of any network connection.

    As for your point of having to put up with a degraded OWA experience
    when using a non-IE browser, I really do not see how you can say that
    is Google's problem. OWA relies heavily on technologies not part of any
    standard, and I'm fairly sure on proprietary features of IE. It is beyond
    question Microsoft's job to improve cross-platform availability of its
    products... hell, that's why standards were invented. Google is clearly
    only interested in things that will *improve* the state of the web for
    application developers... and I hardly think that implementing some
    sort of hideous ActiveX/Microsoft-flavoured-JavaScript layer in their
    browsers is beneficial to anyone. If anything, it's a giant leap back to
    the days of IE vs Netscape.
    • HTML5 is like Obama's stimulus plan

      Lots of empty double-talk promises doomed to disappoint at the end.
      • That's funny

        I was going to say that HTML 5 is a lot of solid work that is supported by
        everyone except the monopolist. Have you tried writing HTML 5? It is a
        breath of fresh air, as long as you stick to Safari, Chrome, Firefox,
        Konqueror and Opera.
        • URL's please

          I'd like to see some of these websites that you created with HTML5, mind posting a URL?

          Also, HTML 5 last I read was not a finalized standard.

          I just checked though, found a page with links to websites written with HTML 5, they each loaded just fine with IE8.

          I have read that there are elements or HTML 5 as it exists today that IE 8 won't process, but since HTML 5 is not complete what is the issue with that?

          [b]soap box time:[/b] What I hate, despise, get nauseous at the thought of is JavaScript. Yes I write JavaScript, not guru level but forms processing and such. I hate JS, what an ugly, messy, chaotic mess of code.

          If I could select a client side language module it would have to be a new implementation of PHP for the client side.

          For me the biggest handycap is client side coding. HTML 4, 5, easy to learn and understand. CSS 2.1, 3, terrific, easy to learn and understand.

          JavaScript, ugly.
          • JavaScript, agreed, not only is it ugly, but it's not secure

            One thing I learned was it's potential for attack with cross-site scripting. And you can't validate any javascript so you wouldn't know if you were hacked.
          • JS Validation?

            How, exactly, would you propose one might "validate" JavaScript? It's an
            interpreted programming language??that's just dumb. If you'd ever done
            any programming in any other (interpreted) programming language, you'd
            know how ridiculous that sounds.
          • JS

            What, specifically, do you despise about JavaScript? Once you get over the
            initial OMG of the fact that it's an event, prototype-based programming
            language, I don't see the problem. It's extremely well-suited to doing the
            kinds of things that modern web apps demand, and if you don't like the
            vanilla stuff, you're free to use a framework.
  • And exactly why....

    would students be part of the target market (or any other particular group for that matter)?

    This is a silly post. Chrome will be lean, cloud based, local caching of data, some (and growing) off-line capabilities and probably grow in features/capabilities over time. It will NOT be everything to everybody. If it works for you (when finally released) use it, and if it does not work for you, use something else that does.

    Windows does not work for everybody, nor does Apple nor Linux. Griping because a pre-alpha, barely announced new-ish cloud based OS may not work for you or your particular demographic, is entirely pointless IMHO. Let the universe unfold.
    • Simple....

      [i]"And exactly why....
      would students be part of the target market[/i]"

      Because Chrome offers to lower the price and students are notoriously

      "[i]It will NOT be everything to everybody.[/i]"

      I contest it is be everything to very few. It might make a nice small
      lightweight travel computer assuming you will be in a cell/have
      broadband access where you travel.

      Again, Chrome OS is NOTHING new. It has been tried many times in
      the past 8 years with minimal success. I simply don't see anything
      new here.
    • RE: And exactly why?

      "would students be part of the target market (or any other particular
      group for that matter)?"

      Totally agree here. I see no reason Google should be thinking "oh well we
      should DEFINITELY go out of our way to tailor this piece of software for
      students." ??how are their needs fundamentally any different (or more
      important) to anyone else's?
    • Agreed

      It's pretty early to tell how the OS will play out. Hopefully, with Google opening it's arms for developers, things will come down and the majority will be pleased. We'll see
  • but why can't you be connected virtually all the time?

    between WiFi, 3G and LTE being rolled as i write this
    (100Mbps wireless... i.e. wireless as fast as WiFi) why
    the hell can't anyone be connected virtually all the
    time.. and between google gears and HTML 5.. when you
    have to, you can work off line too... i'm not getting
    your point..
    • Becuase

      I still refuse to pay for a 3G connection. There is no point in being connected all the time. If people wanna get in touch with me, call my phone. If someone needs to send me something, send it to my email, and I'll get it when I sit down next. If I need to get work done for school, that's what I have Office installed for.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Agreed...

        ...when I do photo editing, I don't need to be on the internet (nor do I want to be on the internet) because I shoot RAW photos and edit using Lightroom and Photoshop.

        You get me a fully featured set of tools like that which will work as well as those two tools in an online scenario *and* provide the same speed of access as local hard drive and you might have something.

        I contend that until the day that the cloud offers the same speeds as local drive access complete freedom from fear of who has access to my copyrighted information, these type of "net only" systems will only be a single tool in a large arsenal of options.

        It will definitely not be a Windows killer as there are too many people who just don't trust Google inspite of their "do no evil" mantra that Google seems to ignore at the drop of a hat any time it gets in the way of them making a buck.

        I'm guessing that Google will find that their Chrome OS offering will not be as widely accepted as they are hoping and that this will fall by the wayside, just like what happened to the Linux Netbook offering.

        I expect that if Apple comes out with some kind of larger than iPhone tablet device, that will have greater adoption than a Chrome OS device.
        • Well of course

          People are either using Apple or PC, and it seems that alot of people are switching to Macs instead of open source.

          If Apple does release a tablet, and it is cheap enough, it def take a look at it.
          The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • A cheap OS for high $$$ connections??

      To me, that simply does not make sense.

      WiFi: Not really that ubiquitous.
      3G: Verizon/Sprint/AT&T can set you back $40-$70/month with
      5GBytes/month caps.
      LTE: Not even close to here yet. Also what cost?
    • no service here

      I qualify as anyone. As the crow flies I'm about 6 miles from I-5. There is a ridge between here and the I-5 corridor blocking all wireless including TV stations 10 miles away. We do have a slow DSL line but that is the best available here. We had satellite internet before the DSL became available.
    • Why wait?

      Why should software wait for hardware? Why not
      go full bore now, and take full advantage of
      what we've got?

      We don't know how long it will take to deploy
      these technologies, or what they will end up
      costing, or how many users will upgrade to a
      device to use them, or how reliable they will
      be under extreme conditions or unpredictable

      I say let's design software and devices that
      always work. Fully connected networks are a
      great dream, but as long as they're only a
      dream, let's build devices and software based
      on reality.

      Even if fully connected networks do become a
      reality, then nothing is really lost because
      the devices and software work fine either way.
      They can even work during the rare network
      outage - and let's be honest, we'll never
      achieve perfection. There will always be the
      occasional time when part of the network is

      Gears and HTML 5 are great, but are still
      young. Let's keep improving offline
      capabilities, and bring together technologies
      that help everybody.

      Let's not forget the devs, either. We need to
      keep making application development easier and
      simpler without sacrificing power.

      Right now, being connected all of the time is a
      dream for many people. Cell phone technology is
      super expensive, and isn't showing signs of
      getting cheaper, as there is still plenty of
      work for the companies to do to improve
      coverage. Most other types of wireless are very
      spotty in their coverage. Nearly everybody
      wants a good chunk of change for access.

      It's gonna be a while before we approach
      anything near complete coverage. We shouldn't
      have to wait for it if we can design stuff that
      works seamlessly. Many applications can work
      fine even if the user has troubles connecting
      to the network.

      It's doubtful wireless will ever be a truly
      perfect technology. Even with a recent "N"
      router, I still have occasional network
      hiccups, and the possibility of interference is
      still an issue if I move into certain areas of
      the house. If I want a truly seamless
      experience, it's still a good idea to be able
      to "hide" that by accessing local resources
      while my computer renegotiates the connection.

      Caching is a good start - although I'd like the
      user to have more control. What happens when
      the caches use up all of the memory or storage?
      Will the user lose the ability to do something?
      Will the user be able to decide what to keep?

      Still some stuff to work out.
    • RE: Chrome OS: More questions than answers?

      @doctorSpoc While I look forward to Google's Chrome OS notebook, it will be a supplement to the regular laptop. And there are two major reasons for this, connectivity and program functionality. In one's main country a use will likely have solid and reliable broadband access. At my London address I have a decent 10 Mb/s cable connection for example at ?20/$30 p/m. A 3G USB dongle can for as little as ?10/$15 p/m give Internet access on the road. But even in the UK there are dead spots and low connectivity. Outside of London it is difficult to obtain anything more than a 1 Mb/s broadband connection, and 3G is patchy in many areas across the country. In fact there are lots of places where even a cellphone signal is impossible, let alone a data signal. But the real problems come when leaving the country. Data roaming is cost-prohibitive for most people. Even large businesses might balk at the costs applied by some telecoms companies. Vodafone in the UK, for example charge ?3/$5 a MB up to 5MB and ?15/$24 for every 5MB after that. My average Android data use equates to around 300 Mb per month which on Vodafone's data roaming rates would cost ?885/$1,400 outside of Europe. Even within Europe this would cost ?300/$480. While Vodafone Data Traveller gives you 25 MB in selected European countries for a fee of ?10/$15 p/m, this would be quickly eaten up with anything more than forced email. Of course there is the local SIM option, but this can be complicated and just as in the UK many providers want to tie the user into a long term contract.

      Even after jumping the language barrier in some places there is a mountain of red tape. And 3G data in many places is far from perfect in many countries. If you don't want to pay ridiculous data roaming fees or opt for local SIMs, one is left with coffee shops, hotels and airports.

      While some airports provide WiFi, few give free access, exceptions being Singapore International, Seoul's Incheon and Hong Kong.

      Then comes the issue of accessibility. While many places in the world provide an unrestricted Internet, globalization has meant that we are doing business where the Internet is heavily censored. For the business traveller this is a particular problem and the use of a VPN [Virtual Private Network] is almost as standard as the laptop and mobile phone. The Android O/S facilitates the ability to add VPN settings, though it can drop it's connection at times. One can only hope that the Chrome O/S offers similar functionality since without a VPN most of Google's cloud services will be entirely inaccessible in some countries.

      In China for example Google search is problematic, GMail is slower than through a VPN, and while Calendar, Google Health and Google Groups are accessible, Google Docs, Picasa Web, Google Sites [formerly Googlepages], YouTube and Blogger are completely blocked. And it's not just Google services either. Facebook and Twitter have been blocked for more than 18 months and many other social networking sites remain inaccessible. So, no VPN and the Chrome OS for a business traveller or other visitor to China would be fraught with problems. Those documents you were to collaborate on that have been shared in the cloud would remain untouched even if Internet access were acquired.

      The other issue concerning Chrome OS is that of apps or programs. As some have also commented there are still some things the cloud cannot cope with. One particular, though specialist, task is that of photo-editing. While an amateur might be happy at uploading pictures directly to Picas and editing online with the likes of Picnik, for the professional this is not a serious option. The Internet, even 10 Mb/s connections would not be able to create an online equivalent to the likes of Photoshop, Fotostation etc. While many photographers back-up pictures in the cloud, this is far from their only back-up. Many will also burn to disc and separate drives in addition. Chrome OS with a limited HD, could not provide this.

      But just as the netbook and the iPad cannot be all things to all men, neither will the Chrome OS take the place of other systems. It will supplement what many already have. For some it may replace their laptop as most of their work is Internet based and travel is not a major issue. For some it may provide as a useful online tool while their laptop or desktop serves as the core of their operation.

      Smartphones for example, as fast and as versatile as they are, have not replaced the laptop. While reading an email or small report on your Android is satisfactory, typing a blog or long report on such a device can be a nightmare.

      At the end of the day we may well find we have more devices in our bags and pockets than ever before!
  • Can I share a vision?

    -Devices that can be used anywhere. Online, offline,
    doesn't matter. If used offline, they sync when
    online. All transparent, almost invisible to the user
    for some apps.

    Google can kinda do that, but if you go to somebody
    else's email, it might not work, as not everybody
    supports offline yet.

    -Data that's yours. You decide if you want it on the
    device, or in the cloud, or in your own personal cloud
    made up of your own devices. Maybe you want to use
    Yahoo's UI but store your data at Google. Or vice
    versa. Or you don't trust anybody and want to keep it
    for yourself.

    That part can't be done currently, or is very limited.

    Just some thoughts for now.