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Chrome OS the litmus test for cloud

If it meets expectations of users and developers, Google's Web-based operating system may trigger overhaul of current device and services delivery ecosystem, new report notes.

The success or failure of Google's browser-oriented Chrome OS will be the litmus test to decide if the cloud is capable of addressing user needs for content and services, according to a new Ovum report released Monday.

If successful, Chrome would also challenge the need for device-based applications and force a reevaluation of the role device platform vendors play in the service delivery ecosystem, noted the research firm.

Tony Cripps, principal analyst at Ovum, said in the report that various characteristics of Chrome OS focus on access to Internet-based applications, which differentiates the platform from other OSes. This offers users and app developers potential benefits, he added.

One such benefit is lower cost for devices running Chrome OS, said Cripps. The Google platform was built to run only Web apps on custom-made thin-client devices, so there is lesser need for powerful hardware and licensed installed apps, data and software components. This, in turn, drives down prices for end-users, the analyst explained.

He also pointed to the "developer-friendliness" of Chrome OS as an important feature. He noted that since Google's Chrome Web browser is its only platform, application developers only need to use Web technologies such as HTML5 and Flash to cater to Chrome OS devices and users, reducing the need for them to learn vendor-specific technologies.

There is also lower risk of developers being trapped by vendor lock-in, he added. "By lacking a 'native' development platform, Chrome OS has less potential for entrapping developers in specific vendor ecosystems who will not necessarily need to pay platform owners to help distribute their apps," Cripps explained.

He added that users can also enjoy multi-screen access to content and services without the need to obtain everything from a single provider.

More looking up to cloud
If these Chrome OS features are exploited to their best potential, Ovum hypothesized that the role devices and device platform owners play in the overall service delivery ecosystem will also be put in question, especially when retail Chrome OS devices from manufacturers Acer and Samsung hit the shelves in 2011.

Cripps described that in a managed device platform (MDP) approach, vendors have control over the entire software platform in terms of device-side development tools, storefronts and device OS. However, this model would crumble once developers are able to reach any device directly through a Web URL or Web apps, he said.

Nonetheless, the analyst noted: "This doesn't mean that the benefits of an MDP approach in app distribution are no longer relevant. Rather, they are no longer strictly necessary.

"Given their proven utility, application and content developers will still want to use channels such as app stores to distribute their wares in the same way users will continue to use these channels to discover such content," he said.

However, he noted that "the balance of power would undoubtedly shift" as MDP providers face more pressure to ensure the strongest collection of cloud assets and move away from device-specific apps.

No guarantee of success
Cripps cautioned that this does not guarantee Chrome OS will be a runaway success.

"Google itself may decide that the 'thin OS' approach compromises its own ability to exert control over sections of the content and applications value system," he noted.

The Ovum analyst also pointed out that developers and users may rail against Chrome OS if their experience with the browser-based OS fails to live up to their expectations, set by thicker--but still "lite"--platforms such as Apple iOS and Google's Android mobile platform.

That said, he did note that several apps on Android are already Web apps that have little need for native client-side technologies, apart from local data storage and access to selected Android APIs (application programming interfaces).

"It [will be] a test of Google's constitution and of the willingness of today's big beasts to protect their investments," Cripps concluded. "If Chrome OS doesn't fly next year, expect it to be a memory by 2012."