Stiff specs will prevent Chrome OS from 'flourishing'

Basing prediction on interaction with PC makers, IDC analyst says steep hardware specs and need for constant Web connectivity will hinder the Google OS from success. But, PC makers disagree.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

Challenges such as the steep hardware requirements Google is looking to incorporate into devices running its Chrome operating system (OS), as well as the need for constant Web connectivity, mean the platform will not be a "huge or moderate success", predicts an analyst.

Speaking to ZDNet Asia in a phone interview, Bob O'Donnell, program vice president for clients and displays at IDC, reiterated issues he highlighted at the research firm's Directions 2010 conference in Santa Clara, California, earlier this month, where he described the discussions he had with PC OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) that revealed Google's intentions in terms of hardware specifications for Chrome. These include "relatively high performance graphics, accelerometers and other sensors", according to an EE Times report.

O'Donnell acknowledged: "My comments are speculative, rather than factual, but from talks with OEMs, they think the steep and additional hardware requirements mean such devices will be more expensive than Windows-based notebooks and mini-notebooks running on Intel's chip processors."

He added that the OS has a "fundamental architectural flaw" in that it is completely network dependent, a requirement that is "not realistic" in "many places" including the U.S. and Singapore.

Google last year announced that the Chrome OS is designed to be a browser-based OS with fast boot-up time and minimum storage capacity, as most of the data will be stored in the cloud.

Furthermore, O'Donnell pointed to concerns over the lack of clarification from Google on whether Chrome or Android OS will be dedicated to run on mobile devices.

"Right now, Android is doing fine on mobile phones. But the problem comes when there is no differentiation between the two different operating systems. If I'm a tablet or PC maker, which OS should I pick?" he questioned.

O'Donnell also cited reservations over the fact that Chrome will not support Windows-based programs, nor does it have much application support.

He went on to add this does not mean there will not be Chrome-based products in the market, or that people will not be willing to try out the OS. However, due to the issues he highlighted, the analyst said "he does not see Chrome OS flourishing".

Asked for its views on the IDC analyst's prediction, a Google spokesperson declined to comment and added that the company presently has no further updates to announce with regard to Chrome.

At a press event in Singapore in January, the search giant said small and midsize businesses will be the early adopters of Chrome-based netbooks, followed by larger enterprises. Last month, the company also touched on its tablet plans for the OS.

PC makers remain interested
Despite O'Donnell's forecast for Chrome, two PC manufacturers--Lenovo and Dell Computer--said they were still keen to explore support for the Google platform.

China-based Lenovo, which is one of Google's announced hardware partners for its Chrome OS project, said it could not shed light on "specifics" due to a non-disclosure agreement.

However, Matthew Kohut, Lenovo's worldwide competitive analyst, confirmed it was in talks with Google regarding Chrome and "[we] remain interested in it". He told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview that the PC maker had "no public product plans at this time" to include the OS in its portfolio.

Addressing O'Donnell's claims that Google had requested expensive hardware specifications, Kohut noted that Google is looking at Chrome to be a "platform that succeeds". That means creating a favorable first impression among consumers, with the necessary hardware to have "enough power to run [the OS] at its best", he said.

He added that running a browser-based OS that needs constant Internet connection will not prove to be much of an issue, pointing to Lenovo's Skylight notebook as an example of a "cloud-based" device that requires Web connectivity to function.

"Finding connectivity is not the problem it used to be," he said.

Ian Chapman-Banks, Dell Asia-Pacific's general manager for consumer business, had a more cautious outlook. He noted that the availability of untethered, cost-efficient wireless Internet connectivity, as well as the speed of service delivery, are key to the success of any Internet-based application or service.

"Any compromise in terms of user experience will be detrimental to adoption," Chapman-Banks said in an e-mail interview. "Mature markets that have cheap, ubiquitous wireless Internet connectivity will naturally see the lowest barriers to user adoption."

"The success of any solution, whether an OS software, hardware device or a combination of both, depends on the added utility, benefit and ease-of-use it delivers to users. Also important will be an ecosystem of applications available to the user. Should Chrome be able to deliver on all these, there is no reason why it cannot thrive," noted the Dell executive.

Despite O'Donnell's prediction that Chrome is unlikely to flourish, Kohut still believes Google has a "good chance" of succeeding. "It seems to be putting a lot of development effort behind it and the OS is proceeding well through beta testing," he said.

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