Does Chrome OS mean anything for schools?

Readers who don't share my infatuation with all things GOOG will probably expect me to predict that netbooks running Chrome OS will dominate the educational space in a year and save schools and students countless dollars. Believe it or not, though, I don't think this is the case. At least, not exactly.

In a word, yes, but perhaps not for the reason you might expect to hear from this relatively devout Google fanboy. Readers who don't share my infatuation with all things GOOG will probably expect me to predict that netbooks running Chrome OS will dominate the educational space in a year and save schools and students countless dollars. Believe it or not, though, I don't think this is the case. Rather, I'm convinced that Vijay Pandurangan of VentureBeat really hit the nail on the head when he wrote,

The Chrome OS plan is to entice users to move as much data as possible into the “cloud”, making the data and apps transparently follow the user onto whatever device he or she happens to be using...So success of Chrome OS is not really about whether a lot of people use Chrome OS!

Instead, success (or failure) will be measured by the creation of new and better web apps using HTML-5 and HTML-5-related technology.

Google representatives have already made it clear that they are hard at work enabling HTML-5 features in Google Apps and plan to significantly improve the richness and fidelity of their core Apps products within the next year. But we won't need Chrome OS to access any of these new features. We just need to use a modern browser and be willing to trust in the cloud.

Here's where the implications for Ed Tech come in. It's not about Chrome, it's about the coming availability of really rich web applications that make arguments against the cloud less meaningful and arguments in favor of cloud applications all the more compelling. If the compromises associated with modern web applications suddenly start to disappear, then barriers to adoption come down. If applications previously exclusive to desktop computers suddenly start appearing in the cloud, spurred by Chrome OS and other cloud efforts, then the cheap, anytime anywhere computing revolution can begin (or rather, continue more aggressively).

Chrome OS isn't how schools will save millions. The cloud applications that developers create for Chrome, as well as the richness of HTML-5 just might be. Thin clients and server-centric computing can already save money for schools, both in terms of TCO and initial costs. When server costs can come down even further because they are simply directing traffic to sophisticated web applications hosted in a data center somewhere, then desktop computing in schools as we know it can largely go away.

I'm already seriously rethinking my refreshes scheduled for July 2010 given the prospect of fewer local applications running either on our thin client servers or on our full desktops. How much money can I save on hardware? How much will I need to divert to Internet connectivity and network infrastructure? And will these web apps be rich enough, soon enough to meet the majority of my users' needs by September 2010? Let's just say that it's a good thing my paternity leave ends Monday so that I can really start answering these questions in earnest.