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Chrome OS? Solid Gold OS

Google recently released the source code for their upcoming operating system, Chrome OS. Many who tried it have felt that it leaves a lot to be desired. So, is their head in the clouds, or does it actually deliver what was promised?

The source code for Google’s new Chrome OS (and therefore “Chromium” OS) was released this past week with little fanfare on their behalf.

What they may have lacked in enthusiasm however, appears to have been well and truly made up for by the rest of the community. Chrome OS has been the hottest topic on the Internet of late. So what’s it all about?

When Chrome OS was first announced, yours truly pondered what this might mean for the Linux world. Now, with the project officially released to the world, Joe Brockmeier has taken a closer look.

Launch, What Launch?

Google makes great products, it’s why they have become such a force in the computer industry. It was disappointing for many then, when they first got a taste of their much anticipated operating system. Not only was there no flashy new product ready to install on a user’s desktop, there wasn’t even a prepared version at all. No, instead (in true open source fashion) Google posted some instructions on how to build it manually.

Others have become even more disheartened to discover that it’s not flash (although it does include Flash), that it doesn’t run local applications, and that it’s tied into Google’s networked services. One has to wonder, what were they expecting?

Perhaps the media has some part to blame with stories circulating proclaiming “Google Chrome OS To Launch Within A Week.” This made it sound like a complete, polished product would be available. Expectations were running high:

“Having a robust set of functioning drivers is extremely important to Chrome OS’s success. People will want to download this to whatever computer they use and have it just work.”

Nothing, it turns out, could have been further from the truth. In fact, it’s almost comical that the release was the exact opposite. No loud noises, little fanfare, just a wiki page with a set of build instructions. Thanks for coming.

Hold Your Horses

Hang on a moment though, let’s take a step back. When Chrome OS was announced, Google made its plans clear:

“We’re designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web.”

Being able to play with a build of Chromium OS under a virtual machine, one can see that the OS is certainly fast and lightweight. It starts up from boot to graphical login screen in just three seconds. Tick and tick.

After logging in with Gmail account credentials and waiting a few seconds more, the system presents a full screen version of Chrome, Google’s browser (well, Chromium actually). Yes, the web was there in just a few seconds. Tick.

The user interface is essentially, one full screen version of Chrome. There are some almost hidden extras however, such as the options menu, a network manager and battery information, all in the top right hand corner. Minimal interface? Sure thing. Tick.

Given that the system only offers interaction with the Internet, the last point is definitely a given.

Ignoring all of the hype and expectations people have built up over time, Chromium OS is looking pretty good even at this early stage. Think about its design goals. Now, isn’t that exactly what Google has delivered?

Essentially it’s just an operating system built on Google’s web browser, Chrome (hence the name). One might think of it as a personal kiosk machine that gets a user online with access to their data, quickly (so long as its with Google, for now).

This is exactly what Google originally announced:

“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.”

It doesn’t get much more simple than that.

chromium-os-desktop.png

Full Steam Ahead

So the current state of Chromium OS doesn’t run on any computer and it doesn’t do a whole lot more more than boot quickly and throw up a full screen web browser. Nevertheless, it has already achieved many of its original goals and is staying true to its purpose; getting users online quickly.

The aim for Google, is to have official Chrome OS computers in the marketplace, which are designed specifically to run Chrome OS (the real Chrome OS, that is).

As I wrote in my original article:

“Think of Chrome OS as an appliance. It’s not going to be your every day running operating system where you sit down and do some video editing, for example. It’s a special, customized operating system specifically designed to live on the net and run everything Google. Sure, it might move over to the desktop at some point but for now at least, it’s focus is on lightweight machines and on-line applications.”

Now, isn’t that exactly what Google is on track to deliver?

Chrome OS is certainly not for everybody, and it never will be. It’s not built to run local applications, in fact, it’s built for the exact opposite of that. Expecting a full blown Linux desktop out of Chrome OS is insane – it was never meant to be that.

So, with all the disappointed punters out there, should it have been released this early? Certainly. Releasing the source code for Chrome OS sooner rather than later is a good thing for Google. It will help the product to mature and to develop at a more rapid pace. It also helps prepare the market for when the real Chrome OS appliances hit, providing a good understanding of what the OS will do. You could say, it’s actually helping to lower expectations.

If everything goes to plan, 2010 should see the release of official Google products in a store near you.

What’s The Attraction?

Google makes money via their online products and they need users to continue using them. An official operating system that gets the user online and with access to all their data quickly, is exactly what Google needs.

Would anyone want to use it though? Well, sure. There is a whole new generation of users who have never used a Windows box, let alone Microsoft Office. Users who aren’t tied into specific proprietary software and who are happy to try different things. For over 10 years already we have been putting our email online rather than using local programs.

Today, users live their entire lives online. They browse the net, use webmail, share photos on Flickr, connect on Facebook, handle finances with Internet banking, do their shopping, watch videos, chat and even make phone calls, all online. For a majority of the everyday tasks they perform, a browser is all they need.

Netbooks have become extremely popular over the last few years. They aren’t powerhouse computers, so what do users want out of a netbook and would Chrome OS suffice? Quick easy access to the Internet. Done. Be able to read emails. Done. Read, create, share documents. Done. Web 2.0, Facebook. Done. YouTube? Done (of course!).

If you’re using the web for your mail and open file formats for your data, what need do you have for Microsoft Windows and Office? None, that’s what. Google knows it, and they also know that if they can make it easier for you to use their products, it’s win-win.

This is why Chrome OS makes sense.

It’s not just individuals who might benefit from Chrome OS, however. Businesses, and even Governments, are switching to the cloud for simpler, cheaper distribution of IT services.

Over two years ago, Macquarie University in Sydney joined scores of other educational institutions around the world in providing Google accounts to their students.

Less than a month ago, the Los Angeles City Council outsourced its email system to Google for over 30,000 employees.

Now, imagine how easy it would be for the L.A. City Council to provide every employee with a computer to access their data. All they would need to do is purchase official Google Chrome OS appliances and they’re good to go. Travelling on the road? Pull out your Chrome appliance and have instant access to everything. Now that has got to be attractive.

This is where Chrome OS differs from other projects and indeed Chromium OS itself – it’s all about the appliance. Chrome OS is unlikely to be a distribution users will want to install on their home machines (and might not even be an option), what would be the point? Current operating systems have web browsers, don’t they?

Chrome OS is not about replacing your desktop, it’s about side-stepping it. Will you be able to edit your high definition videos online? Not any time soon, that’s for sure. There are still things for which users need their desktop.

Scared?

So Google might not yet be “evil”, but they are still a company and they are still driven by profit. The problem with Google is that they simply make great products. Can we trust Google long term? Maybe not, but once the world is freed from vendor lock-in its people can go wherever they like. Currently businesses have little choice but to stick with Microsoft. Google offers them a way out, and many are taking it.

The fact that Google competes on great products is a great thing. It’s the exact opposite of the “vendor lock-in” model which Microsoft employs. The world has been crying out for freedom from vendor lock-in for a long time, and finally, with the help of giants like Google (who only serve their own interests, of course) we are well on track for that to happen.

Can we trust the cloud? Not really, not like you can a system under your own control. However, do the benefits outweigh the risks?

Don’t forget that no-one’s forcing anyone to use Chrome OS, it’s just another option. For those who are happy using Google and their products, Chrome OS a the logical choice. For others, the fact that it’s open source will no-doubt mean various derivatives. “Firefox OS” anyone?

Comments on "Chrome OS? Solid Gold OS"

brianharcourt

Not sure how you can say this is the \’opposite\’ of Microsoft\’s vendor lock-in model. It\’s simply moving the locked in resource from the desktop to the net.

x95tobos

Unbelievable- maybe I did not pay attention, but I couldn\’t find a link in your article to the actual source code, which you talk about in your teaser.

As for the whole cloud concept and other harbingers of slavery to come: you get what you pay for. Be happy, no taxes (and schools with no money, begging for survival).

duncan

This cloud computing is the public transportation of computing… It goes where you want it to go, and there is no privacy. What problems does it fix? If you had your choice, is this what you would choose? By the way: You still have a choice.

ctryon

How is this different from \”Vendor Lock-in\”? Because Google isn\’t telling you WHERE you can go on the Internet. If someone comes up with a better online document editor (using open file formats), or if you decide that you really do like Yahoo mail better than Gmail, then you are still free to use those services, even through Google\’s Chrome browser. Of course, this is assuming that Google sticks pretty close to Open Web standards with their browser, and doesn\’t play any of the well known browser tricks that Microsoft has tried again and again over the years of linking their browser to specific features in their servers, and thus locking in both ends. However, I\’m more ready to trust Google to live by Open Standards than I am to believe any of MS\’s empty commitments to any standards other than ones they\’ve dreamed up. (read: OOXML, etc.)

ryoohki

Duncan,

Cloud computing solves the dynamic load problem and has privacy. A cluster can be thought of as a private cloud. When it\’s overloaded, jobs are sent to the public cloud. Otherwise, one would have to buy hardware which would become idle and outdated once the load crisis was past, thus wasting money on hardware, electricity, and personnel.

1fastbullet

Google makes great products? It\’s why they have become such a force in the computer industry?
Share the drugs, huh?
Google turns out half baked shit just for the sake of turning it out. The reason they are a force in the industry is because (1) of the quantity of half-baked shit and (2) it buys anything that gets in it\’s way.

boottux

Google doesn\’t make great products. That is not Google\’s business. It\’s like saying that NBC makes great entertainment. They buy or build what is necessary to generate attention for their main business which is ad delivery.

The business outsourcing side is a completely different animal and shouldn\’t be confused with their consumer side. The outsource side is a side benefit of the technology they maintain for their consumer side. I doubt that companies which pay Google for services are getting little ads for their employees to click on (although maybe companies can leverage their employees eyeballs by getting a cut of the action). The outsourcing business is a nuts and bolts business like web hosting. You either build and maintain yourself or buy it according to your specs and trust in the person/company that is saying they can deliver..

Consumer IT on the net is another animal altogether from business outsourcing but is just like any other consumer medium. You get the programs for free because you are willing to work on ignoring the advertisements. This is no different than television, newspapers or magazines. Cheap media always comes with advertising. If you are willing to pay the difference one can get rid of the ads (or in the case of email just use a desktop client but look how hard that is for consumers who are hooked on web mail). Google is an advertising delivery engine that uses search as its hook but is always looking to get additional hooks into its users who can then be exposed to even more ads.

The economic problems of newspapers have burst the bubble of those who thought \”content providers\” were fishermen rather than bait. Since money is the only nearly universal standard for keeping score of worth in this world, one can easily get a handle on how much value content (whether news, entertainment or email program) has without any advertising subsidies. Most who try this route are quickly disappointed and realize that though they think what they are doing has enough intrinsic value, the people who count don\’t.

The value of Chrome OS to Google without the ads is zero since no one would pay for this web OS. We simply don\’t need it. We can already get on the web and launch an ad free browser and go wherever. The whole point of Google with this OS is to position Goggle in the minds of consumers as the Web OS in the same way that Microsoft positioned itself (not really positioned, Microsoft just got lucky with that IBM deal since the people at IBM were clueless about personal computing and so Microsoft was able to piggy back on IBM\’s brand) as the Desktop OS.

Google knows like Microsoft did that consumers are a bunch of \”technophobes\”, most don\’t know how a toilet works let alone a computer. Technology companies are in the business of trying to convince people that convenience and an anxiety free ride are theirs for the buying and oh yes they have the \”most apps\” which theoretically is supposed to mean greater convenience and ease even though most are trivial and useless but let\’s face it, it\’s a numbers game (think Mhz or Ghz or storage etc, anything but truly increased functionality beyond what has already become a commodity).

In the end, Google is hoping that people will eventually consider it a necessity to have Goggle on their computer just like people think they have to have Microsoft. At some point in the future people won\’t even have local desktops, just web based ones and having Goggle will seem as necessary as Windows on a stand alone machine. Once that happens, maybe Linux can once again try to capture the vacuous mind space of the consumer. Maybe then consumers will wake up to the fact that free and with no ads is as good as it gets. But I\’m not holding my breath.

slasher01

Right on the money boottux! But like you suggest, most people have buttox for brains and you can\’t really blame Google for taking advantage of this fact. On the other hand, though Google can\’t achieve lock-in through closed formats like Microsoft, I am concerned about the fact that Google is going around undermining other businesses by providing services free-of-charge as a way to channel more users to its own system. At the same time, it continues to build ever bigger and more powerful datacentres so that eventually only companies like Microsoft will have the resources to compete against them. Perhaps that\’s part of the reason why Yahoo is providing developers and other folks access to its search services (http://developer.yahoo.com/search/boss/) in the hope that someone will come up with an innovation that might slow down the Google Express.

fri13

It is a vendor locking if you can not move your data away from the service provider what you choose to store your data.

Google does good job following standards. You get bookmarks, addresses, documents, photos etc in standard format from Google services.

But that is not always enough. You need to be sure that the data is as well deleted from their services when you move them away.

And that is not enough! The Google Chrome OS service idea is terrible. Would you store RAW photos as JPEG\’s to Picasa or HD videos to youtube as lenght of 10 minutes? Hah. But Google Chrome OS is not idea to offer a full software system what we have used to. It\’s idea is to offer just a fast and easy \”living on edge\” software system.

Only thing what now matters us, is that Google choosed to use Linux kernel as operating system in the Google Chrome OS. Thats right, nothing more actually we should not care about. Google Chrome OS includes the Linux kernel as it\’s operating system and that is the greatest thing what they have choosed. Same way Google did with Android software platform, they choosed the Linux kernel to be it operating system as well. So they have two different software systems what both the Linux kernel operates. As long Google follows the Linux operating system (=kernel) license, what is GPLv2 by the way, everything is fine.

There is lots of problems on the actual \”cloud\” idea and it is the main problem all the times. RMS is good person to warn about it as well. But we should not be totally 1/0 idealistics, even that is how we should take our freedom.

taomao

Oh!WoW~there is not real complete OS in our world

tallship

It i, it i, i… (It is what it is).

ChromeOS is a lightweight, thin cloud computing system of operating on the Internet via Chrome(Chromium).

Simple, elegant, and more extensible (when you really think about it) than any desktop operating system existing otherwise.

GoogleDocs sux, but then again they\’ve purchased DocVerse (Now, Google DocVerse), and there\’s currently work on developing a DocVerse plugin for OOo too.

VP8, in the form of WebM is here now too, thanks to that Google purchase.

Grand Central is now Google Voice, and Google Wave federation server is open sourced too.

w/Gmail, Voice, Wave, DocVerse, Calendar, Bookmarks… see where I\’m going with this? These are the things that people spend 90+ percent of their time doing – online.

Now, add a three second boot and you have a complete solution – even in the enterprise if you integrate thin-client enterprise computing into the picture.

I wrote more on this in my article here: http://northtech.us/content/20100519/its-official-googles-vp8-goes-open-source

Hope that helps!

Kindest regards,

Bradley D. Thornton
http://NorthTech.US

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