chrome It was wise of Google to wait on the announcement of Chrome OS until the Michael Jackson funeral was over. Otherwise, the web might have collapsed. On the other hand, I wonder what took them so long to finally release their own Linux distro for PCs. Many had expected this already years ago.

Yes, I know, it will probably be a Linux distribution that is different compared to the countless other Linux operating systems. The post at Google's weblog lets us only guess what this Chrome OS could look like. I think this is the key paragraph:

The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies. And of course, these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform.

So basically, it is Linux that comes with only one application and that is Google's web browser Chrome. It is interesting to note that Microsoft announced their own browser-based OS Gazelle in February, and again a few days ago, but it passed unnoticed by the media.

It is hard to tell how similar both products will be. Of course , Microsoft's will build on Windows, while Google on Linux. However, from the user's perspective, it won't make much of a difference what operating system manages the hardware, if the only software it can run are web apps.

Some Windows admins might wonder now if it is time to look for another job, because once operating systems and applications don't have to be deployed anymore, the demand for IT pros in corporate environments could decrease significantly. Yes, this prediction is very old and, so far, it only was a nice fairy tale. However, sometimes such developments just need time. It has been predicted for years that ebooks will replace pbooks some day, but it never happened. But since Amazon came out with the Kindle, the eBook has begun its triumphant progress.

The question now is whether Chrome OS is the Kindle of the software market. First of all, it is quite likely that Chrome OS won't have more capabilities than Linux-based netbooks. While it seemed, for a while, that Linux would be able to cut out Windows in this field, things have changed again recently. Now Windows is also dominating the netbook market. Early netbook users were quite frustrated when they realized that they couldn't run common Windows apps on them. But owners of Windows-based netbooks are not much happier. It did not surprise me when I heard that most netbook owners are dissatisfied with their devices. The reason simply is that netbooks are not "bloated" enough to run modern applications.

I am using quite a few web apps, but the Windows applications I use outnumber browser-based programs by far. More interesting is that I have abandoned some prominent web apps in favor of their Windows pendants lately . For example, I have been using Gmail for quite some time. But now I am back to Outlook. Only after I switched back did I notice how huge the difference really is. Gmail is only a little toy compared to Outlook. Outlook Web Access is a little better, but even though it looks pretty much like its big brother, most people prefer the Windows version and use OWA only when they have no other choice.

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Personally, I think it is rather naive to believe that a tiny browser OS can ever replace a bloated operating system like Windows. Even when some parts of an application are running in the cloud, you simply need a fat operating on the desktop for a rich user interface. In particular, new developments such as 3D user interfaces , virtual reality, augmented reality, speech recognition, etc. will need fat hardware and a fat operating system that provides fat APIs for fat user interfaces. Slim browsers either become fat or they would  be unable to cope with this development.

12 Comments
  1. DC Recruiters 13 years ago

    It might not make much a difference to users in terms of look and feel (then again who knows). But since Linux based systems tend to crash less then Windows based systems there might be a significant difference in usability.

  2. Kamil M 13 years ago

    Michael, I agree that Google OS is not a threat to MS dominance (at least for now). However, I think it's really hard to predict what the future will look like. Just think about what all the mainframe people were thinking when Windows first came out :). My point is: if you're in IT, stop being scared about being 'out of the job', simply always be on the cutting edge of tech! And if businesses really move to Linux/G OS/Unicorn OS or whatever, you will be prepared. Just my 2 cents.

  3. Jared 13 years ago

    Really, it appears to be geared to the original premise of netbooks - checking email, websites, writing documents, etc. And of course these will be tethered to Google's apps. But, like you mention, not many people are happy with their netbooks. The idea of, "Oh I only need it for email and internet," sounds good at first, but over time many people realize they actually would like more. Consumers are just that - consuming. Give them too little and they'll only want that much more. Eventually, mom will want her Sudoku Experts Challenge 13 installed because it looks nicer than the one that's available, but won't be able to install it.

    Additionally, there's a lot of trust that would need to be placed in this service. A reliable internet connection is absolutely necessary. (I'm sure there will be somewhat of an offline mode, but it won't be the same) The services and apps themselves need to be reliable with an absolute minimum downtime - a page that displays "Sorry, down for maintenance, excuse our hiccups" doesn't fly well with people who want their data now. And Google will have all data. Conspiracy theorists and the paranoid will have a heyday with that.

    And of course, the news of this spreads around the internet because a big popular company is going up against a bigger, longer established, and fun-to-poke-at company. This exposure then builds up the hype. Calm down people - this isn't going to revolutionize the world.

  4. DC Recruiters, I am not sure if this myth about Windows' instability is still true. However, I am sure that if Linux supported only half as many devices and apps as Windows does than Linux probably wouldn't be much better than Windows 95.

    Kamil M, agreed. However, it is often difficult to find the right point in time to move ahead. You can't be familiar with all new technologies. Thus you always have to decide on which field to focus. If you back the wrong horse for too long, you might lose valuable time.

    Jared, you're absolutely right about netbooks. There is no web-based version for most apps, and for some apps there never will be.

    I disagree with regard to your availability argument. The fact that someone else manages the apps is a plus for the Google concept. In particular home users can't mess up their systems anymore which is probably the number one reason for the "downtime" of home PCs.

    I think if Red Hat made the same announcement as Google today, nobody would have cared. Everyone wants the showdown between Microsoft and Google. It is King Kong against Godzilla. People want to see blood.

  5. tom 13 years ago

    i think with further progress in programming web apps to work offline will begin the descent into the cloud. with these capabilities, i think an Outlook-type program is do-able.

  6. tom, everything is doable when it comes to programming. The point is that once it is possible to run Outlook in a web browser it will be as bloated as Windows.

  7. Patrick 13 years ago

    Michael I think you should take a look at this article at ars technica. I think it explains quite well why it matters to google, even if it ends up being a niche OS:
    http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/news/2009/07/googles-chrome-os-coming-to-netbooks-in-late-2010.ars

    At least I found it pretty interesting.

  8. Thanks, Patrick. It is interesting, but "It's our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be." doesn't sound like a niche OS. I think Google relies too much on the web browser. The real competitor to Chrome OS won't be Windows but Silverlight. I somehow think that we will soon see a Silverlight-based Office. This is just a wild guess though.

  9. Patrick 13 years ago

    I'm not trying to make advertisement for ars technica but they have an interesting article about gazelle explaining what it really is and what it's not. After reading it, it seems quite obvious that it's not intended to compete with Chrome OS in any way:

    http://arstechnica.com/microsoft/news/2009/07/gazelle-microsofts-browser-os-is-not-actually-an-os.ars

  10. The article is quite interesting. Gazelle might not have been intended as a rival to Chrome OS, but its concept is obviously very similar. Thus I think the author is wrong about this point. His only argument is that Gazelle is not an OS. But you can say the same about Chrome OS. It is just Linux with Google's web browser.

  11. Patrick 13 years ago

    Well, what you say is true. In the end, only time will tell what will compete with what.

  12. If you ask me, then there will be no competition at all. Google's products are usually over hyped. When they announced "Google Desktop" some years ago everyone was already expecting the big showdown. Nothing happened. Google can't compete with MS in the software business and Microsoft can't compete with Google in the search business.

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