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Chrome OS opens as Chromium: A Quantum Leap or Too Early to Tell?



Today, Google introduced the world to their Chrome operating system by releasing its code base and initial interface work as the open source Chromium OS. All the major tech watchers were on hand at a conference to cover the news. Google, of course, made their own announcement via Blogger and posted an introductory video on YouTube. Obviously, a lot of it is still unshaped, but based on the direction and structure of the project, it’s easy to get excited or pessimistic about it. Watch the explanation and tell me what you think. My thoughts after the jump.

Okay, I predicted earlier that Chrome OS was going to make the biggest impact on netbooks and nettops, potentially giving them a major distinction from notebooks and desktops other than reduced power and cost. John Biggs from CrunchGear shares that view. Erick Schonfeld of TechCrunch wonders if limiting applications to web apps is too limiting. Erick has a point, but I think that limit is actually its strength, and here’s why.

People don’t like complicated operating systems. And by people, I mean, the regular folks who automatically click “yes” every time a security alert pops up. Regular people don’t want to make their computer work; they just want it to work. Installing programs is a hassle. UAC is an obstacle. People want things simple, especially people who buy small, simple computers like netbooks. People buy netbooks and nettops intending to use them for stuff on the Internet. That’s a self-imposed, mental limit in addition to the hardware limits. An operating system that works within that limit and makes the most of it isn’t a detriment but rather an advantage.

With Chromium, they’re streamlining the code, not worrying about native code compatibility, and focusing entirely on web standards. With Windows, the focus is on supporting everything possible. Yes, Windows is still the better choice for broad compatibility, but in medical terms, it’s a general practitioner whereas Chromium is a specialist. A GP has broad ability, but they won’t match a specialist in their given field. Chromium is a specialist, albeit in a very broad field.

I hardly think Chrome OS will squeeze Windows out of existence, but in the low-cost, thin-margin netbook and nettop markets, Windows is going to look like a huge expense compared to a free OS designed specifically for the ‘net backed by a major brand. It will be relatively easy for Chrome to get a foothold in this market and lock in an audience. The only question is how far it will grow from there. Stuck in a niche or sky’s the limit?



  1. CLC

    11/19/2009 at 6:48 pm

    Um….one question….: How do you upload photos if you can’t save them to your computer…?

    The only thing I can think of is that SD card that has a direct WiFi link to Flickr (I can’t remember the name of it.). But average people are still going to want to carry around their photos even in places that don’t have a hotspot or cellphone coverage.

    And I can’t imagine not having access to programs unless I have a hotspot…..

    There just has to be some kind of limited ability to save some kind of file to your system!

  2. Sumocat

    11/19/2009 at 6:59 pm

    CLC: Seems you have more than one question. :)

    1. Chromium OS does recognize USB drives and presumably other flash memory when they are plugged in. Could be saved to the local drive or uploaded directly.

    2. Don’t forget Google Gears. It allows web apps and files to be saved locally.

  3. manchild

    11/19/2009 at 8:42 pm

    It’s satanic! It figures that google, the company that says that it’s ok to activate your microphone to listen to the conversations in your home for the purpose “they claim” of offering you more personalized advertising would come up with the idea that it’s a good thing to store all of your personal data on the internet under google control. Am I the only one that thinks this in nuts? Are people really going to offer up thier privacy on a silver platter for an operating system that starts fast? Insanity.

  4. manchild

    11/19/2009 at 8:48 pm

    Don’t take my word for it, read for yourself.

  5. GoodThings2Life

    11/19/2009 at 9:22 pm

    @manchild, no you’re not alone… I mean, afterall they want to “index everything”. But hey, you know, whatever. The people who click “Yes” to everything are idiots and don’t really care anyway, and it’s all about making stupid people “feel OK”. We don’t want to promote intelligence in society, because it’s the new way of holding people back and maintaining power. Just watch the movie Idiocracy.

    Anyway… I love the promo video posted. It genuinely sounds “cool”. But I don’t want cool. I want compatible, functional, most of all familiar. So do 85-90% of people, because they still continue to use Windows.

    That said, Chromium will be great on netbooks and specialty devices designed for idiots.

  6. Kyle2268

    11/19/2009 at 9:57 pm

    WTF! Why would a Netbook even want this? A Netbook is designed to be small, light and portable… So if I’m on a bus/train say; (without a Wifi connection BTW) I don’t want my Netbook to be sitting with 1.3Kgs of unusable plastic on my lap! I want access to my programs without scouting for a hopspot or paying unfair 3G Premiums! It’s a great browser, but that’s all.

  7. Tomas Antila

    11/19/2009 at 10:09 pm

    I certainly can see the use of a computer with only access to the internet. The main problem I see is that without constant internet-access the computer is pretty much useless. I had hopes they would use google gear and other services to store your cloud information on your computer, enableing it to be usefull offline too.

    However with an 3g-modem and a good antenna I’d like to know how much life they could squeze out of the battery? If it’s only running a browser they might be able to get impressive battery life. That would make up for the loss of programs. A quick internet-computer sure would be nice, the main reason for netbooks. Although I wonder how usefull a quick boot up is since accesing Gmail anyway takes a lot of time. Sometimes it takes up to a minute to load, and come to think of it, having to rely on internet-speed for programs and aplications instead of computer speed would be a pain.

    And also, I get the feeling Google Android is a way more advanced operating system. How could this take till the end of 2010 when it’s only a browser based os? I’m eagerly looking forward to more news about this!:)

  8. LeeN

    11/20/2009 at 11:55 am

    Not that I particularly want to be devils advocate here, but the benefit of having your data in the cloud is that you can access it any where and any time and not need a big machine to do it, and not have to *setup* anything.

    I’ve upgraded and changed computers and laptops so many times that I have created my own network storage solution that stores a lot of the apps and data that I use. And it is annoying and lame that I have to reinstall/reconfigure/re-setup each time :P. Services like Steam (the digital game distributor) make it easier in that it already knows what games I own and it provides me with a clean list of them and I can choose to install them on any of my computers that I have steam installed/setup on. To bad there isn’t an equivalent thing for applications!

    I guess what it is, is that I wish there was an operating system that knew who I was and existed across multiple devices. Knowing who I am, is knowing how I like to work, and knowing what I want. This could only happen across multiple devices if there was a central hub some where that held my data.

    Now whether Google is the right company to do it (whether they are not evil), or if I ran my own server some where, or stored by data in the cloud encrypted. These are different issue all together.

    I think Chrome OS is a great idea, and it sounds like you are not limited to using just Google products on it, so if you don’t want to store your data in Googles part of the cloud, you will most likely have other options.

    In my opinion the main reason why this has come about is that Internet Explorers search bar goes to Microsoft services (Live search, Bing). I think Google created Chrome because they didn’t feel that Firefox was gaining the market share, and they are creating Chrome OS because Windows by default uses Internet Explorer (except maybe in the European versions). Google and Microsoft are dipping into each others territories.

  9. Sumocat

    11/20/2009 at 12:21 pm

    LeeN: You make an excellent point about why Google created Chrome OS. With Firefox hitting a plateau and Microsoft aggressively promoting Bing on their platforms, Google absolutely needed an alternate approach to expand and protect their share of the search market.

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