Thursday, July 09, 2009

Why Google Chrome OS is a nonstarter

As the entire world knows by now, Google recently announced its intention to muscle its way into the operating-system space (supposedly) by way of something called Google Chrome Operating System.

But is it really an operating system? By Google's own account, it's actually an instant-on windowing system sitting atop a Linux kernel, and it will run on certain netbooks only, using certain chipsets only. Google is reportedly working with Acer, Adobe, ASUS, Freescale, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and Toshiba to "deliver an extraordinary end user experience." I take it that means Flash will be supported, since Adobe is on the partner list.

But where are the value-adds in this picture? What, exactly, does Chrome OS bring to the table that you can't already get elsewhere?

Not much, it turns out.

"Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS," acccording to Google. Speed, in this case, means instant-on. Turn your netbook on, it lights up, you have e-mail and browsing. Of course, you might have to wait a few seconds while the netbook (re)acquires a wi-fi connection, but at least you don't sit there for two minutes waiting for Godot.

This sounds like a great technological advance until you realize that the same instant-on capabilities promised by Chrome OS are already available via HyperSpace from BIOS vendor Phoenix Technologies Ltd., Splashtop from DeviceVM Inc. and Cloud from Good OS, as well as (more recently) Presto from Xandros Inc. In addition, Dell is putting special instant-on features in its Latitude laptops, and oh by the way, I can put my last-year's-model Dell laptop to sleep any time I want and wake it up later in the day, right now.

Bottom line, instant-on is not new, and it'll be even less new when netbooks running Google Chrome OS become available for consumers in the second half of 2010 (according to Google).

Simplicity is another supposed value-add. What this really seems to mean is that you can only run web apps, and you have only one UI to learn (Chrome's). Which is fine. I spend most of my day in a browser already, thank you.

Security is the third main value add, according to Google. Security expert Bruce Schneier has already derided this claim, however, calling it "idiotic." Far be it for me to disagree with such a distinguished expert.

What are we left with? In terms of new technology, not much, really. There's nothing here you can't already get elsewhere. The only hope Google has of differentiating itself in this market is to offer a jaw-dropping user experience, something so compelling that nothing else even compares. In other words, they have to out-Apple Apple. I have yet to see Google do that -- with anything. Maybe this time they'll pull off a miracle. But somehow I doubt it.


  1. They're also missing compelling applications unless they're looking to the Andriod store to fill the deficit. The bulk of apps at the store are pretty inane. I don't get why they'd do this now?

  2. @nonsequitir aren't microsoft making some kind of announcement on monday? perhaps they are worried by what it could be?

  3. Anonymous3:21 PM

    Amazing how the soapbox "it's a nonstarter" comments about Chrome OS parallel those of Android when it was announced... And gee, Android is now widely considered one of the "big 3" in smartphone OS.

    Spout negatives all you want about how it may be according to your crystal ball, the truth is nobody will really know how effective or efficient the platform is until it is an actual product to be evaluated.

    If nothing else, it may be an enormous push towards mainstreaming Linux, and who can argue with a free OS that's reported to be simple and efficient (as opposed to the bloatware MS has been pushing).

  4. I agree that the only groundbreaking thing about this announcement is that it's Google. Based on their wave preview, google docs, and google web toolkit I think their poised to take a chunk out of Microsoft's business at least in the consumer sector. But what Microsoft has always realized is that if you supply someone with an Operating System, you can more easily sell them on your other products. I can't help but think Google is using the same model to get more people using their products.

  5. a web OS would be awesome for application developers because think of what you could do with 10 lines of HTML 5 code , SVG file and OGG video,[ AFAIK chrome supports HTML 5] which would take considerable effort to duplicate in c/c++ .. so i as app development effort barrier is loared ,more people would jump in .. because to develop app in adnroid you need to know java but not so for chrome based os

  6. I always hoped G would pick up some nice managed OS (such as Singularity).

  7. Google has some smart people. They've done their research. I expect we'll see a radical new user experience -- maybe not radical by Apple standards as you noted, but radical for the price level at which they'll debut the machines.

  8. I think Googles user experience offering will be the Wave (, which is groundbreaking and jaw-dropping. Chrome OS feels more like enforcing the vision that web is everything and desktop apps will vanish.

  9. Great points. It has improved, though.

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