Google is getting a ho-hum reaction from the IT world following last week’s release of the Chrome OS, its attempt at an operating system designed for cloud-based applications and contender to the Microsoft desktop crown.
Critics and skeptics, however, have labeled Chrome with such tarnishing descriptors as dull, uninspired, lackluster and ne’er-do-well. Microsoft has issued statements calling Chrome a poor competitor to Windows 7 (it’s comeback effort following the disastrous Vista), and Microsoft maven Mary-Jo Foley has likened the Google OS to Microsoft’s Silverlight, the platform designed to make apps run better on the Web. Gartner tells eWeek that enterprise adoption of Chrome is at least 10 years in the offing.
Chrome detractors have zeroed in on what the OS doesn’t do – no downloads, no desktop apps, no deep integration with the host machine. And that’s what PC World’s Robert Strohmeyer correctly calls its strength. Google’s intention is to make the budding netbook market even more powerful by making Chrome the preferred and optimized enabler of cloud computing via lightweight devices.
Strohmeyer is correct in Google’s strategy and intention. In his assessment, “How Much PC Do You Need?,” Strohmeyer talks about how most users don’t need power and capacity of existing desktop and notebook PCs. The continued evolution of cloud-based applications and services continues to reduce the burden being placed on host computers for processing and memory capacity. A lightweight OS, such as Chrome, has the capacity of turning netbooks from little more than email and Web browsing devices they are today into cloud computing interfaces or appliances.
Chrome may be the dream first conceived by Phoenix Technologies, the company that provides the BIOS in most of our machines, came out with an emergency browser embedded in a PC’s firmware. The idea was if there was an unrecoverable problem in the operating system, the user could activate the firmware browser to retrieve patches, download new software and run Web-based diagnostics. But in this scenario, the Phoenix browser only existed as a supporting application for when Windows couldn’t start.
What gives Chrome the ability to boot up in 7 seconds is that it’s not running all the drivers and applications that Windows and other operating systems control. In fact, Chrome has little interaction with its host machine, increasing its power efficiency when running online applications and unclogging all the internal pipes that are normally jammed with applications running in the background.
Google is unabashed in saying that Web application developers need only apply for supporting Chrome. If cloud computing is the wave of the future and growing as fast as all the vendors and analysts want us to believe, is there any reason to think that we’ll need big footprint and powerful operating systems? Won’t cloud computing usher in an era of lightweight netbooks, thin-clients and virtual machines? And, if that’s the case, won’t Chrome be the standard bearer for this new generation of computing?