Thursday, November 19, 2009

Google Chrome OS shows its face

So the first public look at Google's Chrome OS happened this morning.  Is it everything that anyone could hope or dream?  As a grudgingly admitted Google fanboy, I'm a little surprised that my answer is:


Frankly, I'm not overly impressed.  Google's approach is a good one and addresses some real problems, and of course there are some very nice bells and whistles, but it just isn't anything I'd ever use in a day to day situation.

Google's basic idea is something along the lines of "What if the entire PC experience were based on the web?"  What this translates to in reality is "How much functionality can you squeeze into a web browser?"  Literally the entirety of the Google OS as it stands right now is a souped up version of their Chrome browser.  All applications are pure web apps (Gmail, Google Docs, etc) and each of them gets a tab.  Background processes like chat happen in popup windows like Google talk does in current Gmail. File interaction is either all stored online, or pulled off of USB media on the fly via another popup window.

This setup does offer advantages.  For example, since all of your data is on the web, the machine you use is irrelevant.  Log into a Chrome OS machine anywhere and you'll have all your stuff.  Because the browser is the only resident program, it also means the system boots up EXTREMELY quickly.  Also, because of the enclosed setup, security is much stronger.  Basically the system knows what programs are SUPPOSED to be allowed, and nothing else will run.

This, of course, is the rub.  If it doesn't run in your current browser, it wont run on a Chrome machine AT ALL.  That means no Photoshop, no full scale games, no stored media watching... nothing.  If you cant do it online, you cant do it.

Is this perfect for someone who only wants to check email and play bejeweled with their $400 netbook?  Possibly.  However, while the Chrome OS is open source and therefore free, it targets only specific hardware.  This means you cant just drop it on your existing machine.  You have to buy a new one with the software in place.  Since you're going to fork out the dough anyway, is there a point in choosing this system over one that offers a more robust experience, even in the netbook realm?  Debatable.

Google justifies all this by saying that they don't expect their OS to serve as a primary machine, but as a companion to a machine with a more traditional OS.  They want to fill the niche for simple online use in a more mobile device.  Wait, isn't that what increasingly ubiquitous smartphones are for?  I can easily do with my iPhone most of what the Chrome OS will do, with the exception of file access via USB.  Why would I need another entire computer just to occupy the same niche?

Frankly, I love the slick look and feel of the system and some of the features are wonderful.  If they added this functionality to the existing Chrome browser they'd have even more than the current 40 million users pounding their servers I'm quite sure.  Does it really have a place in the world as a standalone system though? I dunno.  We'll see.

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