Google’s Chrome OS: A Wispy Desktop Adversary?

Google’s announcement of a Chrome operating system, coming just nine months after its launch of the Chrome browser, has the tech sector buzzing over the possibilities. Google is targeting netbooks, claiming to have agreements with several OEMs already inked.

How will the option of a Chrome OS be received by the desktop-using masses? Are they ready for a PC experience that will rely heavily on applications hosted in the cloud? Or would they rather stick with the tried and true desktop model, be it Windows, Macintosh or one of the many flavors of Linux?

Google makes the case for the cloud very compelling: Desktop systems were designed during the pre-Web era — certainly long before Web 2.0 took over.

This is something anyone who has grappled with a glitch-prone OS (I’m looking at you Vista) can understand.

Another potential Chrome plus: Security may wind up being better. Right now, Internet security is entirely dependent on user behavior — whether someone installs a patch and keeps the AV or firewall updated. Such maintenance, though, can be handled easily from the provider side in a cloud-based scenario.

The Tradeoffs

Nothing, though, is free — not even on the Internet. An OS running applications primarily hosted in the cloud will entail certain tradeoffs.

The uptime/downtime issue that recently impacted many Gmail users would apply to all cloud-based computer activities. If you think you go ballistic now when your email is down, imagine how you would feel if the spreadsheet detailing all of your personal or family finances suddenly became unavailable for an unspecified period of time.

“Remember, you are shifting your dependence from a machine to the provider,” Greg Sterling, principal of Sterling Market Research told TechNewsWorld.

It’s true that the percentage of time Gmail has gone dark is minuscule — certainly compared to the time a typical consumer would likely spend rebooting or reinstalling software due to any number of computer problems. That percentage, though, could widen, depending on the performance of other providers whose products might become part of the OS, Sterling said.

“I don’t believe Google will be the only company participating in something like this,” Sterling said.

This issue of dependence on the Internet would be felt in other ways as well. Processing speed for a particular application, for instance, could depend in part on the ISP being used, Sterling suggested.

“Right now, if I am running Excel on a local machine, the ISP has nothing to say about how fast it runs,” he pointed out.

Battle of the Apps

Comparing such performance issues is a side issue at best — or straw man at worst, according to Michael Cherry, VP of research for OS at Directions on Microsoft.

The real battle for computer users’ OS preference, he told TechNewsWorld, will be fought over which applications the OS in question makes available.

This, of course, holds true right now, to an extent.

“I use a Mac,” Cherry said, “and do you know why? Because as a writer, I prefer Word for the Mac over Word for Windows.”

However, if Chrome can give developers a new platform for applications they’ve been itching to build for an OS, he said, that could provide a significant boost for user adoption.

It would be impossible for any OS to run the full range of computer operations entirely from the cloud, Cherry pointed out.

“The Chrome OS is an interface with the hardware and browser in which the applications are running,” he said. “Surely, few people will want to print in the cloud … so there will need to be an interface between the browser and the USB port to which the printer is connected.”

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