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Friday, December 10, 2010

Google Chrome OS. Why all the fuss?

chrome-logoIt’s now been a few days since Google announced its first Chrome OS device over a year after initially announcing it was working on its own operating system. But what is the big deal? Windows has dominated the operating system market for as long as I can remember. Even with its huge and loyal following, and a growing fan base in recent years, Apple’s market share in the desktop computing market remains extremely small.  Linux was much vaunted in tech circles but despite the appearance of more user friendly versions such as Ubuntu and being bundled on some low end PCs and netbooks it has never taken off, so why all the fuss over Chrome OS? Can it really make an impact with either consumers or enterprise users, or is Windows so engrained that it will always be the OS of choice for the vast majority of computer users?

One of the problems the likes of Linux and MacOS have faced is usability. Regardless of how easy to use Linux and MacOS may be according to their fans, the fact they are quite different to Windows will always causes issues.  People want to buy a new computer and instantly start using it without having to re-learn how to use a computer first, and here is where Chrome could have the edge. As Chrome OS is essentially a web browser, it will work in a way familiar to most computer users with little if any real learning curve.

Just like MacOS and Linux, where Chrome could fall down is lack of compatible applications.  Being a cloud OS users want be able to install traditional applications, so any applications used will need to reside on the web.  This may un-nerve some users, but many people will have been using cloud based applications for many years in the form of popular email solutions such as Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo! mail.  In recent years as browsers have evolved, internet speeds increased and storage becoming cheaper, the number and type of applications available has increased significantly. Well known services such as Flickr and YouTube let users manage their photos and videos online while Google Docs and more recently an online version of Microsoft Office provide cloud alternatives for traditional word processing, spread sheet and presentation software.  There are plenty of more niche applications too such as for personal finance or Kashflow for business accounts.

chromestoreAlong with announcing Chrome OS, Google also announced the Chrome Web store where users will be able to get various apps that can run as add-ons within Chrome OS, while of course web based applications such as those mentioned above should all run quite happily just as they do currently in a variety of web browsers. Given that it is likely to be around six months before Chrome OS devices are available to the general public, there is plenty of time for even more applications to be developed for launch.

So as more people use the internet for more of their computer activities, Chrome OS seems to be the way forward, so what could slow down or even stop its success?  The main issue is likely to be around user data.  For Chrome to take off, users must be comfortable in handing over their data to a 3rd party rather than storing all their files locally and for some that could be a step too far.  From a personal point of view I have a library of a few thousand MP3 files. While I love Spotify and the access that gives me to even more music, I have spent years building my collection and want to be able to keep that stored locally, will a cloud OS such as Chrome give users that sort of flexibility?  From an enterprise point of view, while the accountants are will likely be jumping for joy at the thought of reducing costs by doing away with expensive in house servers and software in favour of cloud based solutions, companies may not be happy with letting someone else store and manage all their data, while a need to migrate to a new software platform for certain industry or company specific tasks could be enough to put off some.

Clearly its far too early to say what impact Chrome OS is likely to have, but personally I am looking forward to seeing it in full action. Nearly everything I do, I now do online. I still have a couple of applications I use on a regular basis that aren’t cloud based, but in the past upgrading my PC has forced me to switch applications, so doing so again shouldn’t be too big of an issue.  At least once in the cloud, the need to buy new software that is compatible with a new OS should be a thing of the past.

If you want to know a little more about Chrome OS, there is a great review at TechCrunch who have been lucky enough to have a play with one of the CR-48 laptops Google has released for testing while the video below gives a good insight too.  Of course there is always the official Chrome OS site, where if you live in the USA you can even apply for the pilot program and perhaps get your hands on Chrome OS before its officially released.


Here is a first look video of Chrome OS and the CR-48 laptop from cnet.

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