Google is courting consumers and enterprises for its cloud-based operating system, but it won't have an easy time appealing to a significant number of consumers.
As I wrote in July and November 2009, Chrome OS is designed to run applications on the Web -- without locally stored programs -- via connections to the wired and wireless Internet. But it's also designed to be useful for work and play without Internet access.
During Tuesday's event, Google said Chrome OS's three core goals are simplicity, fast performance, and significant protection from malware and crashes.
Simplicity: The operating system basically is the browser, which is today's Google Chrome browser. Applications are Web-based, and may be displayed in the browser in tabs.
Fast performance: Chrome OS can awake from a sleep state in a few seconds. If you already run the Chrome browser, you know it's probably the fastest browser available.
Protection from malware and crashes: This is perhaps my favorite aspect of Chrome OS, which incorporates several layers of protection. One layer of protection is that the Chrome browser and OS automatically update without user intervention. Users always have the most current and, presumably, most secure versions.
Another layer of protection is sandboxing (isolating software from other software) to keep malware from running amok. According to Google, malware in the browser will not infect the OS. In addition, Google is working with application developers to incorporate sandboxing for plug-ins. Adobe pdf files are sandboxed, and Flash is in the process of being sandboxed.
Still another layer of protection is "verified boot." A core part of the OS is stored in firmware. If there are problems with the OS when the computer boots, the most recent "clean" copy automatically is used. If verified boot works as it's supposed to -- avoiding corrupted files and infections -- this alone could be a significant reason to consider it.
But is a Web-based OS too simple for most users? Google is working to ameliorate the problems. The Chrome Web Store -- available yesterday -- offers some 500 applications. I tried several, such as free apps from National Public Radio, The New York Times, and Amazon Windowshop. They worked fine, but they weren't any better than accessing Websites, and sometimes not as feature-rich.
To be fair, this is just the beginning, and Google is encouraging developers to push the envelope and test new techniques. Developers may offer free apps, sell them a for one-time fee, offer monthly subscriptions, and provide limited time trials.
For printing documents, Google discussed its "Cloud Print" beta. Users transmit documents to a cloud print server, which sends them any networked printer. So far, Chrome OS doesn't store printer drivers. Indeed, Google wants to eliminate software drivers.
For enterprises, Google invited Gordon Payne, senior vice president and general manager of the desktop division of Citrix Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CTXS), to discuss Citrix Receiver. The product provides a virtual desktop for users to access enterprise applications stored on servers. Applications are accessed from any Internet connection for use on a wide variety of computers, tablets, cellphones, and, in the first half of 2011, Chrome OS.
When not connected to the Internet, some applications can be used offline, such as Google Docs, The New York Times (work-in-progress), and, possibly, ebooks purchased from the new Google eBooks service (see video).
A variety of companies and organizations are working with Google to test Chrome OS, including American Airlines, Kraft Foods, Virgin America, and the US Department of Defense.
For the testing only, Google is providing unbranded notebook computers, called Cr-48. The computers include a 12.1-inch screen, a solid-state drive, full-sized keyboard, large trackpad, dualmode 802.11n, Qualcomm's Gobi chip for cellular in the United States and abroad, a Webcam, eight hours of battery life, and eight days of standby power.
Consumers may try to get a free notebook by convincing Google to let them enter the pilot program.
In the middle of 2011, anyone will be able to purchase Chrome notebooks sold by Acer Inc. and Samsung Corp. , using Intel chips. Also, Google has partnered with Verizon Wireless to offer cellular in notebooks. Chrome OS notebooks will come with two years of free cellular data, although it's only 100MB per month. Verizon data plans will begin at $10 a month, without a contract fee.
I can see more enterprises than consumers embracing Chrome OS because of the security/privacy features and cloud-only applications preventing employees from downloading unauthorized software. But as I previously wrote, I don't see many consumers embracing a cloud-based notebook -- unless it's very inexpensive.
I think that I'm going for a desktop at home (I'm planning to buy an iMac) and for the mobile phone: I'm between the iPhone 4 and an Android phone.
For some reason the Android platform isn't very popular amongst my friends (and that usually is a disadvantage) but I've heard so many good things about it, that I think I will eventually have one... but I'm leaning towards the iPhone.
Disclaimer: I'm into photography as a hobbie so Apple is right down my alley.
I definitely need a solid laptop. I currently am using an HP Tablet and it is a decent enough laptop - not powerful enough for a heavy duty use, but for day-to-day workload it is sufficient. I enjoy being able to write with the stylus - taking notes in meetings seems less rude when I flip the screen around and am writing vs. staring at a computer screen and typing away. It's small and lightweight, even with the second battery for extended life.
My personal laptop most recently was a 17" desktop replacement fully maxed out HP DV9000t. More than I cared to carry, but never lacking in power.
I guess there are four main mobile platforms to consider - IOS-based (iphone, ipad), Android, Microsoft, and Blackberry.
I haven't used Microsoft since I owned a basic smartphone - it worked ok.
The ipad, doesn't work for me in the business use department. I don't care for any of the standard business productivity apps - mail, notes, etc. Doesn't integrate with an Office/Outlook environment very well, though I will admit that I have not investigated the add-on applications enough.
Blackberry is a good business integrated device, but lacks the personal/fun aspect that I think the ipad is excellent at (Netflix, Kindle, etc.). It might be too limited of a platform, but what it does I do think it does well.
My phone is a Droid and I absolutely love the platform. With aftermarket applications (free or extremely cheap) I have almost full Outlook capabilities - Email, Calendar, Contacts, and Tasks. Nothing new to learn and it integrates well with my laptop. The fun side is there with plenty of cool apps to play with. I look forward to testing a Zoom or a Galaxy.
Those of us that are "power users" and can pick up a Windows, Mac, or Linux laptop and feel at home only after we tweaked it a hundred ways until sundown, might scoff at the idea of the Chromebook.
Let's consider the success of other devices that have had success in the "limited computing" market.
The iPad is an obvious one here. While it still struggles as a corporate-friendly device, it works well for the Soccer mom, the commuter on the train, etc. It has its limits to be sure, I do not care for them and find them valuable as only a browser, netflix/youtube viewer, and song player. My needs are mine, and Apple meets the needs of others with this device.
The netbooks seems to have lost some of their original momentum. Being limited in size and power, they struggled against laptops/notebooks of slightly bigger size with more umph. But they do meet a certain use to certain people.
Kindles and the like. For me it seems much more worth it to buy an iPad and get those features included in your "book reader." But the Kindle and its kin of book readers has defintely hit home with many consumers. When it came out the cry was why would you want to read a book on that? Well, people have figured out why.
The problem really isn't in limitations, but knowing where those limits are.
If you expect the Chrombook to be something it isn't, then you'll be disappointed. Will it break into the corporate world where Microsoft Office is king, not likely.
SOHOs and non-profits may benefit most from this device. I've worked with a number of non-profits, helping them migrate off of Microsoft to OpenOffice - it's a transition that is difficult, but doable. Besides the cost of the software licenses, they will likely also save in the hardware costs. No more need to store files on a local fileserver that requires tech support.
Google needs to think long and hard about their intended consumer and then build the requirements into the product.
Many applications in the corporate world today are, in fact, web-based, so that's a plus if the browser can work with it. Windows file shares are also common in the workplace, so building SMB support through the browser would be key.
While I doubt it will meet my needs for a laptop replacement, I'm always eager to see what Google comes up with.
Chrome OS is different from Linux in that the user sees just the browser. The browser is, in effect, the OS, and the apps are all cloud-based.
So I don't think Chrome OS per se will be difficult for users. After all, many people are familiar using Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Flickr, Facebook and other Web services.
One of the big problems will be when a consumer wants to do something familiar -- print a document, connect an external hard drive, rip a DVD, listen to their own music -- and either cannot do so or it is more complicated than when using a regular operating system like Windows or OS X.
I haven't seen any breakdown of the components cost of the Chrome OS notebook. I'm not an expert in this, but I'd be surprised if it was more than $200. I'd guess it's less.
"Take over the market"? I guess I'm not sure what you mean.
As I've written, I think Chrome OS notebooks won't do well with consumers, but might do well for some enterprise applications. Consumers prefer familiar operating systems and applications, and most won't want to manage their computing solely on the cloud.
I don't think there will be a cloud-only computing market for consumers, at least not for years.
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