Sleeker. Faster. Entirely online. This is the future of computing, at least according to Google, which recently announced via blog post the arrival of its first operating system created solely for computers, coming in 2010. Chrome OS is the next step after Google’s Chrome browser, which was first released last September, and will be designed for users who do everything online.
In Google’s new vision for OSes, software is a thing of the past. Web-based applications are how people work today. Computers and browsers should start up swiftly so that you can be online in seconds, ready to start watching videos, working via apps like Google Docs, networking on Facebook, or doing any other of the myriad tasks that now take place solely within a browser. Your data will be available on any computer because it all resides online.
The system will be lightweight and open source, using a Linux kernel and rethought security architecture (as Google did with its Chrome browser), as well as a new windowing system. The company promises no malware, no viruses, no security updates — no problems.
Oh, and did I mention it’s free?
While this isn’t the first time Google has developed an OS — that would be Android, the company’s OS for mobile devices — this is its first desktop OS and the first OS to ostensibly make cloud computing a reality. With cloud computing, everything lives on the net, from your data to the services you use. It’s also a giant line drawn in the sand before Microsoft.
As computer users shift their focus from personal computers to working almost completely online, the need for overpowered machines is dropping off. Just look at the recent popularity of netbooks and the productivity capabilities of iPhones and PDAs. For users who spend the majority of their time online, lighter and faster is key.
Many of the pros of Chrome OS seem obvious. A free OS will decrease the price of new computers, for one. (Windows can add $25 to $100 to a computer’s price tag.) Having data available online is more than a convenience. It can be a lifesaver when you think of a lost laptop or fried hard drive. An open-source system isn’t just a goodwill gesture; it opens up the OS to the ingenuity of developers everywhere. And there’s hardly a downside to having a faster computer, instant access to e-mail, and fewer hassles when it comes to maintenance. Who looks forward to service updates?
But detractors have brought up several negative points. Nearly 90 percent of computers worldwide run on Windows and it will be hard to convince users to work in an unfamiliar environment. Linux-based netbooks are already facing this issue. Some computer uses, like gaming and graphical work, require robust machines and OSes. And while cloud computing is attractive to many, there are still valid concerns when it comes to entrusting data and functions to online companies. Plus not all Web services offer the same features as their software counterparts.
This announcement was seen as a slap in the face to Microsoft, which responded this week by declaring that it plans to offer a free version of Office online. Other recent bouts between the two giants include Google’s search engine versus Microsoft’s new Bing search engine, Google’s Android mobile OS versus Windows Mobile, and the Chrome browser versus Internet Explorer. Its price tag of zero dollars, security promises, and open-source code are particularly interesting points of comparison with Windows.
Google’s goal is to start rolling the system out onto netbooks available in the latter half of 2010. The company says it’s working with a number of manufacturers, including Acer, Adobe, ASUS, Freescale, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and Toshiba. Eventually, Google says, it will offer the OS on regular computers too.