Google Chrome OS & What It Means For Future of Computing

chrome_osUpdated: Today Google went wild and announced its plans to create the Chrome operating system, which it says will be designed to run on netbooks. But it’s really an attempt to keep Google relevant as an advertising powerhouse as consumers begin spending more time playing with web-connected apps than the web itself. It’s the search giant’s reaction to a wholesale change in computing driven by ubiquitous wireless access and mobility. The Chrome OS is another step in allowing Google to create what we’ve called the OS for advertising — an ad platform that extends across all devices and all screens.  So let’s break it down:

jkOnTheRun: A web, or cloud, OS that puts the bulk of all user activity firmly up in the web. No heavy lifting on the user’s netbook; that will all take place up in the cloud with the Chrome OS handling it all. This is so clever on Google’s part, and could very well turn the next page on cloud computing.
The New York Times: Google’s plans for the new operating system fit its Internet-centric vision of computing. Google believes that software delivered over the Web will play an increasingly central role, replacing software programs that run on the desktop.
ReadWriteWeb: With this, Google can obviously put its own web apps like Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs at the center of the user experience, and this is surely part of Google’s motivation behind releasing this OS.
TechDirt: Part of the appeal of the growth of the web itself (and Google with it) is the fact that it’s made the whole operating system less and less integral to the computing experience. With the move towards more of a “cloud” based world (which Google has been a big part of driving) just doesn’t value the operating system as much as in the past. So why jump on that bandwagon now?
Lifehacker: To say the Chrome OS will face stiff competition is quite an understatement, with Intel developing its own lightweight, Linux-based netbook platform, Windows XP emerging as a force in netbook OS share, and Microsoft itself likely to fight tooth and nail to keep yet another upstart from encroaching on the one area of PC sales that is still seeing significant growth.
Search Engine Journal: Only Microsoft can kill Windows XP, and that would happen as soon a Windows 7 becomes successful. Google Chrome OS is a Windows 7 rival, the same way that Google Chrome is a rival of IE.
The Register: Many companies have tried to muscle in on Microsoft’s home turf of desktop and laptop operating systems, ever since the company first sewed the market up. And none have succeeded. But then none have had the muscle or money of Google nor have they had its central position in web services to use as a foot in the door. And Google has shown, with Android and the handset manufacturers, that it can establish strong beachheads, where others have failed.
The Wall Street Journal: Google’s incursion into operating systems could galvanize its critics, including privacy groups and competitors, who argued that the online search company already collects vast amounts of information about consumers’ Internet use. While Google is still a tiny player in many of the new markets it is exploring, like mobile phone software and online applications, some worry it could leverage its massive online search market share to quickly grow its share of new industries as well, gathering even more data about its users.

First the Features:

  • Chrome OS will run on both ARM and x86-based chips and is designed for netbooks.
  • The architecture is Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel.
  • Apps developed for Chrome OS will run on Google Chrome OS, and on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux.
  • Designed to boot and get folks on the web in seconds.
  • Designed so viruses and malware aren’t an issue.
  • It’s not going to be out until the second half of 2010 on consumer netbooks.

What It Means:

  • Google sees a browser-like experience being key to netbooks and believes that rather than just surf the web, consumers want to play and use the apps.
  • Microsoft, which has not ported its Windows 7 to ARM-based chips that will be designed into the future version of netbooks, and which has priced Windows 7 for Intel-based netbooks fairly high, will be scrambling if Chrome OS succeeds.
  • The fact that apps designed for Chrome OS will work anywhere should attract developers to the platform, and as we know, developers are the new kingmakers in today’s app-focused world.
  • While the world was waiting for Google’s mobile Android OS on netbooks, Google has suddenly pulled Chrome OS out of its hat. James over at jkOnTheRun calls it a case of classic misdirection. Google explains that Chrome OS is for the web, while Android is for devices — from phones to set-top boxes. We wonder why Chrome OS wouldn’t be more appropriate for the so-called fourth-screen devices.
  • Building a special-purpose, lightweight browser specifically for the netbook might address some of the difficulties that developers were having porting Android to netbooks, such as issues porting to a keyboard-based user interface rather than touchscreens and trackballs.
  • This all follows in line with Google’s love of everything in the browser, such as its embrace of HTML5 that makes it easy to bring a desktop experience (especially with video) seamlessly to the browser.
  • Chipmakers betting on ARM-based netbooks such as Qualcomm and Texas Instruments will win if the user experience is robust enough to wean people from their familiarity with Windows.

Why Computing Needs to Change

The promise of broadband everywhere is changing the way we can communicate online. Google’s Chrome OS may or may not make it, but the attempt shows how far the industry has come from a bulky PC chained to a desk by its power cord and Ethernet cable. The computer is evolving from those dinosaurs to a smaller, mobile model that is always connected to the web. The iPhone brought us apps that are lightweight so users don’t get bogged down by smaller processors and slower wireless web connections on mobile devices. Google’s Chrome OS attempts to keep that speed, while preserving a platform for Google to make money through advertising. But it’s far from a done deal.

Why We’re Not Going to Get Too Excited Yet

  • It’s not coming out for a year. A lot can happen in a year.
  • Launching a browser is one thing (and so far, Chrome has received mixed reviews) and building an OS is another, and right now this is an announcement, not a product.
  • Does the world need a netbook-focused OS?
  • Can Google convince carriers, which aren’t big fans of the search giant, that selling netbooks with Chrome OS is the way to go? Most analysts expect carriers to become a huge distribution channel for netbooks.

If Google wants to be the advertising OS, its products need to deliver the optimal web experience on every device. Judging from some of the Google blog post notes, the Chrome OS will have instant-on and act as an interface between a netbook and the web, rather than feel like a traditional OS. In fact, it almost sounds like a…browser. Which may be the point, since Om argues that the browser is where the action will be in the coming years, and as we consume more of our web experience through apps, a full-fledged browser seems a little clunky.

Chrome OS isn’t expected to land on consumer devices until the second half of 2010, but by designing it for the new model of computing, Google has the potential to affect the netbook market like the iPhone did in the cell phone world. And since Microsoft decided not to port its Windows 7 software to ARM chips, which was going to be a thorn in the side of Qualcomm and Texas Instruments as they tried to design netbooks that could attract consumers already familiar with Windows, Google’s Chrome OS has an opening. TI has already lauded Google’s efforts. So while we’re not getting too excited, we’re definitely going to watch this develop. In the meantime, check out what everyone else is saying around the web in our handy compilation above.

Update: Google has added some information noting that the Chrome OS will be free, and listing a few of their partners in this endeavor, including several notebook makers and chip companies making ARM-based application processors for netbooks and smartphones.

Additional reporting by Jennifer Martinez.

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