It seems like an age ago since Google first announced ChromeOS and certainly there's been a lot written about it, including a fair bit in this magazine. Now that the launch of Chromebook models from two manufacturers is imminent, it might be worth reminding ourselves of some of the issues around a "Cloud-based OS" generally, and this one in particular.
There has been a lot of talking, lately, about Google's Chrome OS. People didn't take it too seriously initially; then, last week, Google started sending out demo netbooks which ran -- hear hear -- Google Chrome OS. Google Chrome OS is based on Google's browser, Chrome -- hence the name. The idea is that all you run on your laptop is your browser -- that's it. But this raises a lot of questions. In this article I propose a possibly interesting solution to Google's issues, and how a possible (and not-so-painful) merge with Android should be possible.
When Google announced their ChromeOS there was a flurry of comment and opinion on what this could mean for the GNU/Linux user and the future of free software. Our esteemed editor, Tony Mobily made a bold statement (albeit framed as a question) at the time that Google's ChromeOS could turn GNU/Linux into a "desktop winner". I'm not sure that it's true.
Whatever happens of course the fact is that when somebody of Google's size and impact enters a market, there will be winners and losers, losses and gains. Now that the dust has well and truly settled let's have another look at the potential impact of ChromeOS.
The significant thing about Chrome is that it sets a new way of thinking. It does not mean Chrome will dominate the world. Open standards mean that other companies could provide similar services. It's the 80% scenario. 80% of what we do could be web based and probably will be in the future. It is near 100% for 80% of the population. It does not then make much sense to have everyone running a desktop OS just in case they might happen to want a specialist application that is dependent on that technology. Some people will still need this, but not the majority.
A small revolution in the IT world is about to happen, and we are about to witness it. Microsoft Windows' domination has been challenged many times: first by OS/2 (failed), then Apple (failed), then Java and network computing (failed), then GNU/Linux and Ubuntu (failed, so far). And now, Google's Chrome OS. After such a long list of failures, what makes me think that this latest attempt will actually succeed?
There is a list of factors. Let's have a look.