The missing WMD from Android PCs: full Chrome

The missing WMD from Android PCs: full Chrome

Summary: Once full Chrome is available on Android, watch out. At that point, we may see how loyal manufacturers and users are to the somewhat fickle Microsoft. Booooom!


I've been watching with great interest the recent surge in Android PCs we've been seeing at CES. Unlike Chromebooks, they are capable of running far more than Chrome, and unlike traditional Windows, you don't have to run Windows.

At the top of the balance sheet, of course, leaving out Windows means reducing the cost of goods sold for manufacturers, which drives the price of these machines down considerably to consumers and enterprise buyers.

Secondly, unlike iOS devices, Android devices are infinitely "moddable" and tweakable, which means they can be made to fit individual user and corporate needs far more easily than iOS devices (and much more like the Windows machines we're all so familiar with).

But there is one current -- and I believe temporary -- fatal flaw in Android PCs that, if remedied, could explode like a nuke over Redmond: full Chrome.

Android doesn't yet support full Chrome. Instead, it supports some chopped-down mobile cousin to the full Chrome we use on our desktops. There are no extensions in mobile Chrome and the ability to fully integrate all that functionality into a desktop machine exists in Chromebooks, but not in Android PCs.

That, in fact, is (even though I already have a bunch of Android tablets) why I bought a Chromebook and why I think Chromebooks have potential. Even compared to Android PCs, Chromebooks have potential because they are so incredibly quick and simple to get started using, and that's very appealing to overworked IT professionals.

Until a fully-extensible browser is available for Android PCs, I don't think the Android PC category will really take the desktop/laptop PC world by storm. Until a fully-extensible browser is available, they're just big tablets with keyboards.

But once full Chrome is available on Android, watch out!

At that point, we may see how loyal manufacturers are to a vendor (Microsoft) who charges a relatively high COGS price for an OS, has a very unclear strategy and multiple personalities, and directly competes against them at the same time. And we'll see how loyal users are to an old-guard OS that constantly gives them fits and a new OS that they lovingly caress in their pockets.


Topics: Android, Google, Microsoft, CES, Windows


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Android devices are infinitely "moddable" and tweakable... & malwareable

    but that's the draw.

    I don't know that they are any less fit provoking. We haven't seen much OS updating on devices. Or full featured hardware support by devices. The fits come from integrating multiple 3rd party devices, device drivers, and software. On a full PC everyone has the expectation that you can plug in or attach via a custom card any device imaginable... and you can buy the cheapest components available to build the system without any repercussions. When Android (if ever) attempts to match all use cases you'll see what I mean. You'd know if you ever did OS support (UNIX, UnixWare, Linux, CTOS, ...)
    • ...and unlike traditional Windows, you don't have to run Windows....

      Pretty lame comment from someone saying that using Google's no 1 spyware must be a good thing for users.

      I'd rather pay a few buck a month for user an OS that will not submit my personal data to it's creator and sell them for marketing, profiling, analysis, advertising.

      Google Chromebook are just useless malware. They should not even be allowed as they are. There should be a label on the packaging like cigarettes saying " By using the computing devise, you will sacrifice your confidentiality and allowing someone to makes zillions out of your personal data"

      Windows still works, still rocks in fact. I see no point for Not having it.
      • ChromeOS is malware? Can you pls give us your definition?

        You said ChromeBook, but I think you mean ChromeOS. In any case, can you give us your definition of "malware", by which this is true?
        • Malware

          ChromeOS (On which ChromeBooks are running) is an open door from the user to Google. Anything you search for, anything you use, all your contacts, everything you write about and save on Google Drive through Google Docs will be used by Google to profile you, understand who you are, what you like, what kind of relations you have, where you live and what you add for breakfast. All these data will be sold to a third party or Google will use by themselves for advertising purposes. For me, any piece of software that acts behind us, a bit like a key logger but worst because there is lot of computing that can analyse the data is a Malware.

          Google’s entire business model is based on creating the illusion of free and making people pay big time every time they use their software by compromising the user’s confidentiality. Every single app on a Chromebook makes you accept usage terms that allows many people to gain information about you. Worst, Google keep on changing its confidentiality agreement in the interest of making even more cash.

          ChromeOS is not in any way, shape or term, a plus for users.
          • Your first paragraph also applies to Windows.

            Just change the brand name...

            Your second paragraph has nothing to do with the operating system, and applies to any vendor. They all change the confidentiality agreements.

            Your last paragraph applies just as well to Windows.
          • Read man, read.

            Time for you to read the confidentially agreements of Windows and compare to any Google product.

            Microsoft and Apple are old school companies that respects the confidentiality of their users. You'll have to pay a few buck but ounce you did it, you get a whole lot more.
          • oh really? Skydrive scans your pictures

            and they will terminate your account if there are any adult pictures in your skydrive. I didn't know skydrive terms of service included scanning all your photos and if adult photos are detected, they will terminate your skydrive. Now I have a skydrive icon in my 8.1 File Explorer that can not be used. Micorosoft does not respect your confidentiality.
          • What do you think Facebook does?

            I have no problem with what Google does. It is a welcomed relief from the practices of Microsoft.
          • Uhm

            Facebook, is for social networking there's nothing interesting there but with Google you use data that might be valuable and they mine your data.
          • let scroogle steal your data

            I will hang onto my own thanks.
          • Ahhh! The "practices of Microsoft"! ...such as?

            Maybe charging a fee for the software?

            If that's it, don't bother responding as there is quite a long long history of thousands of companies charging for the software they have developed.

            That's clearly a very very long way from a deal breaker for the 90%+ of the world.

            Give us a real important Microsoft practice that's caused you such trouble...beyond paying for their product.

            Please. Give it a shot.
    • Security updates...

      That is the biggest worry with Android.

      With Windows, you get new versions and you can upgrade to them, these are then supported for at least 10 years with security updates. My experience so far with my Android devices seems to be, if I need to patch a security hole, I need to buy a new machine, as getting updates on existing hardware is like trying to get blood from a stone - either that, or you have to go the Cyanogenmod route and use a third party ROM, hoping that the guys are as honest as you believe them to be.

      The attitude to security seems to be, "what, the device is a year old, you want updates for it?" That isn't a good way to encourage uptake, especially on the corporate desktop. The corporate bodies don't generally care if they are running the latest version of an OS or application, but they sure as hell do care that the device is secure!

      I think this is the missing WMD in Android at the moment. Google need to get their partners on-track. Having a browser with plugins would be nice, having a secure browser and OS would be better.

      That said, here we use about 90% thin clients, so Android with an X, RDP or VDI client would make a more flexible alternative to the thin clients. Most of our developers use X through SSH into the Linux servers and RDP into Windows Terminal Servers for development work.
  • What is going to solve the problems of the OEMs?

    Changing operating systems isn't going to eliminate their race to the bottom mentality.

    I can only imagine what OEMs are going to do with full control over the operating system as well. How much of their bloat will be baked right into the operating system itself or cut rate designs.

    Full Chrome on Android would be really nice, but above that is a dire need for a unified system to deliver security updates and fixes for Android. The rate that device makers abandon tablets and phones should be alarming enough to take priority over anything else for Android.
  • they're just big tablets with keyboards.

    Exactly, and android should not be compromised to be a desktop OS like microsoft would do or vice versa. Anyone can stick android anywhere they want but that doesn't mean it should be. Android is also a single window OS, and google is more interested in you having chromeOS on PCs.
    • Android doesn't have to be "a single window OS"

      That is up to how you want to customize it.

      Samsung already provides up to 4 windows... And anyone can make further modifications if they want.
  • I have no 'proof' to disagree with your hypothesis, David, but your

    premise for explosive Android desktop PC growth depending upon the inclusion of a single web browser in this software/hardware ecosystem is an argumentative stretch, IMO.

    In the age of the post PC era where two distinct work flow requirements have been mapped out between traditional PC desktop and mobile device systems, the inclusion of a superb web browser seems more of an important requirement for a mobile system than for a desktop system.

    I won't make the generalization that persons use the web browser more often on a mobile system rather than a desktop one (in fact, I'm composing this comment on my desktop system now) but I'm more inclined to perform other activities on a desktop system that don't require a web browser of access to the internet.

    Perhaps your crystal ball is more polished than mine regarding this issue but I find it hard to believe that the most essential "killer" application for Android PCs might be the ability to surf the web with a Chrome Browser.
    • its certainly more killer with than without a full browser.

      • A full feature browser IS important. But that wasn't the point.

        Unless I misinterpreted his blog point, David implied that a full featured Chrome Browser was THE most important application required before a mass consumer adoption of the Android PC desktop systems could take materialize.

        I find that premise hard to believe but then again, it could be true and I gave David the benefit of the doubt although, I admit, I had severe misgivings about giving my full endorsement for his hypothesis.
        • The desktop class browser on windows 8.7/rt tablets

          Is one of the biggest reason I've been sticking with windows tablets. That and visual studio and office. There's ok alternatives, but I've yet to try a good IDE for Fortran, c, and c++. If android could offer me all of this I'd be more than willing to give it a try. The same is true for a more traditional Linux distribution aimed at tablet as well as desktop usage.
          Sam Wagner
          • I have to agree

            From a usage standpoint, the poor browsing experiences on most mobile browsers is why I moved to Windows based tablets as well.

            There are other reasons, but I just couldn't stand the mobile browsers anymore.