Google’s Chrome OS is less significant than it looks

My email inbox was filled this morning with questions and opinions after news came out about Google’s new Chrome OS. Was this another frontal assault on Microsoft by the Googleplex? Is Google becoming too big and powerful? What’s going on?

There’s less to this announcement than breathless pundits are panting. Nobody should be surprised that Google wants to enable the development of standalone Internet devices. Chrome OS is an obvious extension of what the company is already doing with the Chrome browser and Android mobile platform.

Think about the classic functions of an operating system. It’s a program loader. It provides an abstraction layer for hardware. It allocates shared hardware resources, like processor time, memory and storage. It manages IO devices, including the focus of input devices. It provides a consistent user interface. It provides security between different processes. Stuff like that.

If your focus is to provide Internet access for the masses, using devices like netbooks, nettops and handhelds, you don’t need the heft or bloat of full-featured, industrial-strength operating systems like Windows XP, Windows 7 or Mac OS X. You want something thinner.

The best thin operating system for smaller Internet-centric devices is Moblin. However, Moblin has one serious flaw: The project is driven by Intel, and the company’s primary motivation is to get the market to adopt its Atom processors. Thus, Moblin is designed to freeze out competing chips, such as anything based on ARM. Until Moblin (recently put under the auspices of the Linux Foundation) becomes truly hardware-agnostic, its potential is limited.

That brings us to Chrome OS. Is it a competitor to Windows or Mac OS X? I don’t see it. What I do see is that Chrome, when it appears, will be essentially a delivery platform for browser-based computing using the Chrome browser.

Currently, Chrome is in the second tier of browsers, along with Safari and Opera. Chrome OS will move it into the first tier. Software developers must begin making sure that their applications run cleanly in the Chrome browser – just like they must do today with Internet Explorer.

And that, my friends, is all that this announcement means.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick
3 replies
  1. Yvonne
    Yvonne says:

    That may be all it means from a software perspective, but from a hardware perspective, it means new types of Internet enabled devices.

    Why am I alone in thinking that?

  2. McWong
    McWong says:

    Is the Dream of a decade ago — everything in the cloud, accessed (even locally) thru a browser – thus neutralizing MSFT and other OS makers, not to mention hardware — and with Google Docs, even MSFT Office! — any closer to coming true, now that Chrome OS is coming thru?

  3. Mehrdad
    Mehrdad says:

    No, the dream is no where close to coming true. There are many years of work on the UI of the popular apps and OSes. There is a ton of legacy data out there as well. UI and backward compatibility are not the strength points of Google and Linux community at all.

    The failure of Linux and success of Windows XP on netbooks thought us one important lesson. People want to treat their netbook as their PC/LapTop. For them if it looks like a lap top, it is a lap top.

    Regarding the online/cloud tools, you should first remember that providing constant connectivity is very expensive and software solutions to get around it are complex. Also, the UI of browser is very limited. I have been using Google Docs and MS Office for many years. Google Docs is still like a student project against MS Office and it can never replace it. It may work only for those who have never seriously used MS Office and are OK with limitations and bugs in Google Doc (or do not know there are better options!)

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