Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Google Chrome OS looks intriguing

Everybody's talking about the new Google Chrome OS.

There isn't a lot of information about it. As Google's post says, they are just describing the vision now, and will roll out the details later. I think that's fair, and we should hold our criticism until more information is known.

But the initial blog post is definitely exciting. First, their description of the overall architecture:

The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies.

I'm a little worried about this "new windowing system" part, but the rest of the description seems great.

And secondly, their description of the desired user experience:

People want to get to their email instantly, without wasting time waiting for their computers to boot and browsers to start up. They want their computers to always run as fast as when they first bought them. They want their data to be accessible to them wherever they are and not have to worry about losing their computer or forgetting to back up files.

I think this, too, is very true. I don't personally experience the "always run as fast as when they first bought them" problem, but I agree with the general observation that each additional piece of sofware that gets installed locally reduces the overall reliability and stability of the machine, so keeping that to a minimum is a big step toward improving the user experience.

Wired's web site has some interesting articles with analysis and questions.

The place where I have the most skepticism, though, is this notion that browser-based applications don't require much computing power. Wired claims that

Chrome OS is designed to run on low-powered Atom and ARM processors, and web-based applications don’t require that much horsepower on the client end so it should be faster still

I am quite unconvinced of this. Yes, many low-end web applications place only trivial usage requirements on the browser host, but the sort of serious desktop-replacement web applications that are being discussed here:

  • word processors
  • databases
  • spreadsheets
  • animations
and so forth, place serious processing demands on the browser.

But it's still a fundamentally great concept, and I'm looking forward to learning more about ChromeOS in the near future and getting access to more technical information soon.

UPDATE: Of course, Google are not the only company understanding that modern browsers are essentially entire operating systems of themselves. Microsoft is doing lots of work in this area as well.


  1. What, they don't like the X Window System? Or Linux's famous audio support?

  2. I worry about the passivity of the masses; I think this project might discourage creativity.

  3. If I have Chrome OS and I'm on a plane can I watch a movie? If they keep to their own rules then I can't. But that is a major reason I might buy a netbook.