Google has provided more details about its upcoming Google Chrome OS. If you missed the boat, Chrome OS is a stripped-down Linux that should boot quickly and launch a browser (Chrome). From there, everything that you do is web-based. In short, it’s a fancy way of launching a browser, but there’s more…
Distribution and hardware: You and I can’t download Chrome and install it, apparently (technically, you can still get the source and compile it – it’s open). Users will have to buy a Chrome OS machine. I suppose that Google *has to* do that because their currently don’t have a driver SDK, and therefore can’t let 3rd party hardware vendors write drivers. This would mean that most devices would share fairly similar specifications. The competition should make them cheap to buy, but not much cheaper than today’s Netbooks, which are as cheap as can be. Chrome will run on Intel and ARM processors.
Security: This one is tricky. Google says that it’s secure because the data is stored on a remote server, but if someone gets your password, they effectively have access to everything. At the very least, I’d recommend using a strong password, but the user is really the weak link here. I think that Google accounts have been hacked before too. Google will be able to update your Chrome computer without telling you, and it says that Apps are more secure, because they have access to nothing, just like web apps on other OS. If you wonder, the local storage is strongly encrypted.
(Boot) performance: Google says that the goal is to create an instant-on machine, and by instant-on they are probably talking about a 20 seconds boot sequence. It could become “instant” if the OS never shuts down, like cellphones do. Storage will be based on Flash only. And because machines will be cheap, you can expect to have very little local storage. I expect early Chrome OS computers to be cheap, so I’m afraid that performance will be comparable to Netbooks (low). Update 11/19: Ubergizmo readers who have compiled Chrome OS have reported a 10 seconds boot from a virtual machine.
Connectivity: Chrome machines are built with the idea that they will always be connected via WiFi as a primary connection. That said, Google is trying to make it possible to work offline too. We’ll see how that works.
Apps: That’s the web… Everything that you do on a Chrome PC, you can do in your current web browsers.
Can it replace Windows and Mac OS?: Only if *everything* that you do is online. If you can use a netbook without ever installing any local apps, you can probably say that Chrome can replace Windows and Mac OS (for you). For most people, Chrome won’t replace the OS that they are used to.
Conclusion: Chrome OS is a fancy way to launch a browser that might get us one step closer to a real instant-on computer (actually, that’s what phones are). At the moment, it seems like a good fit for special purpose “web-browsing computers” that act as secondary devices, next to a main computer. It’s hard to tell how successful it will be when it gets on the market. In the past, consumers have been expecting anything that looks like a computer to run like a (windows/mac computer) computer. That’s why Linux got booted in favor of Windows in most instances. Google will have a lot of educating to do, and that’s not always the place one wants to be. However, the stakes are big. This is Google’s shot at making the personal computer industry to its own image. It might not inherently be a good thing to do, but the more “web-like” things get, and the better it is for Google. In the end, the question is: will that create a better computing experience for you and I? Do you “desire” what Google Chrome has to offer? Will it sell because it’s cheap? Will it sell because it’s “better”? Can we compute only via a browser?
What do you think?
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