Google Chrome OS: is the web an OS?

By GeniusDex on Wednesday 8 July 2009 11:23 - Comments (10)
Category: Software & Operating Systems, Views: 3.975

There is one news item which did grab my attention this morning: Google announced the Google Chrome OS. From what I read, they want to build an operating system which is basically only an entry point for the web. The browser will be the operating system, and the applications will be running online. This kind of operating system had to arrive once, and Google is a logical company to do it.

I think there are currently a few fundamental issues with such an operating system. The first issues is probably the most important issue: it will be too tied in with the web. What will happen if you for one reason or the other (think of airplane trips) are without any internet connection? Will you still be able to access your data the way you would as when you are online? Will you be able to do even anything at that point?

Another issue is with applications which basically cannot run on the web. Think of modern games which basically require a high-end PC to run properly. Granted, Google does not want to target this audience. Their main target is netbooks and simple PC's used for doing stuff on the web online. But doesn't this in the end halt the growth of such an OS? I am not too sure about their goals with this; will it be the same goals as the Chrome browser: make sure that the web as a platform evolves, because the client side tools improve?

Google gives a few reasons themselves for why this OS is needed and will fill a gap, but I think those reasons are not that far from current reality, especially when compared to a modern Linux distro and ongoing improvement there.
We hear a lot from our users and their message is clear — computers need to get better. People want to get to their email instantly, without wasting time waiting for their computers to boot and browsers to start up.
The boot times of Linux-desktops are really improving lately. It takes me roughly 15 seconds before the login screen of my desktop shows, and another 10 or so afterwards before i can use my desktop. These times are still astronomical for some, who instead of "boot faster" want to "boot in 5 seconds". And they did it. Granted, it does not give a full fledged desktop environment at your fingertips, but enough to start a browser and browse the web.
They want their data to be accessible to them wherever they are and not have to worry about losing their computer or forgetting to back up files.
I am pretty confident that Google and other online service providers do care enough about my data not to accidentally get it thrown away. The other side of this is that you always want to be able to access your data in any format you want, instead of being tied to a specific vendor which just keeps your data. I have recently read a blogpost about that which I currently cannot find, but the main point was that having your data online is nice, but it ties you in. It is nothing better than having it in a poorly described document format on your computer. It is your data, and you should be able to do with it what you want. Doing everything online only makes this problem worse instead of solving it, because you cannot even access your data when you happen to be offline.
Even more importantly, they don't want to spend hours configuring their computers to work with every new piece of hardware, or have to worry about constant software updates.
This is not really an issue with modern Linux distro's. Granted, there is some hardware which does not work well, or even work at all, but in my eyes it's a lot better than what Windows gives to it's users. I use a simple guideline: if I plug it in and it works right away, it will work well. If it does not work right away, it will probably take an awful long time to get it to work. Add to that that nearly all hardware I have had my hands on just worked on Linux, and I do not think that hardware is the issue.

Software updates are also handled decently, simply because all your software comes from a central repository. If any software packages has an update, you can install it easily. There are still some issues with it for simple users though. They don't care that libhal-storage1 has an update or even that libhal-storage1 is needed for the system to work as they expect it to. They just want to know that there are system updates and install them; or even better, have the updates installed on the background.

Let's focus on the netbooks for the last part. The current issue with netbooks is, in my eyes, that they are not made for a full-blown desktop like Windows. The first eee PC had a custom Linux because that fits a netbook better. The KDE project is working a specific netbook shell for their plasma user interface, which focuses on the netbook use cases. It should be really easy for a distro to take that user interface, and build a proper netbook distro out of it.

All in all, I do not think that Chrome OS is really filling a huge void that cannot be filled otherwise, with probably less work. If they are doing it in the Chrome browser philosophy, I understand their move. If they want to make the new operating system everyone will use, I do not.