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7/15/2009
01:15 PM
Rajan Chandras
Rajan Chandras
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Google Chrome OS FAQ

Google's newly introduced Chrome operating system has led to a media frenzy and flurry of analyst interpretations. Here are five key questions -- and answers -- about the Chrome OS...

Google's newly introduced Chrome operating system has led to a media frenzy and flurry of analyst interpretations. In a previous posting, I provided a bit of historical perspective to the Chrome OS. As a follow-up, for time-challenged readers (and who isn't?), here are five key questions -- and answers -- about the Chrome OS...

How is Chrome OS different from Google's Chrome browser... or is it?It is, indeed. Ostensibly no more than a better (faster + safer) browser, the Chrome browser, as it turns out, was in fact Google pussy-footing into the nebulous world of cloud computing from the desktop alley -- and a harbinger of Google's long-term goals. The newly announced Chrome OS is an operating system all right, but is being largely portrayed as a sparse, speedy and secure environment for the Google browser, no more and no less.

Who needs a new operating system?

We all do -- or at least, we all probably will, soon. Windows has bloated beyond belief (and repair) and is beginning to seem like King Kong running amuck in New York City; Linux isn't really a new OS, it's an avatar of good ol' Unix (the last great OS to come along)…and remains an utter failure on the desktop. Then, there's the Apple Mac OS which, despite its popularity and high ratings, continues to suffer from "distant also-ran" status. Competitive standing apart, the trouble is that these are all last-generation operating systems, not designed (or truly adaptable) to the world of advanced internet-based computing. The Google Chrome OS is an attempt to be exactly that: a brand new operating (albeit based on the Linux kernel -- why reinvent something that already works well?) for a brand new consumer computing paradigm.

Is this Google attempting to sock it to Microsoft?

Not really…despite numerous media opinions to the contrary. Certainly, this has the potential to open up another battlefront in the Google-Microsoft war, but it's far more than merely a salvo aimed at an enemy. With Chrome OS, Google is trying to position itself favorably for a massive paradigm shift -- from conventional desk-top computing to widespread cloud computing and SaaS -- that Google feels is slowly in the making. If in the process it gains advantage over Microsoft, why, so much the better.

Who is Google Chrome OS aimed at?

Eventually -- as it evolves -- all of us. For now, it is intended primarily for netbooks, i.e. computers that are used primarily to connect to the internet, and rely on internet-based applications and services (e.g. Gmail, internet banking etc.). These computers generally require less computing horse-power (memory, storage, device support etc.) and hence fewer operating system "services" than conventional desktops, since all our applications and data will reside "somewhere out there" across the internet. That's why Chrome OS will also support ARM chips (in addition to x86 chips), which are reputedly better suited for netbooks. Of course, all this presupposes the availability of useful and trustworthy applications.

Will Google succeed?

My crystal ball retreats into a cloud to this question, but let me take a gander anyway. Cloud computing is unquestionably gaining vendor momentum and customer acceptance -- but at a relatively slow pace. The main challenges before cloud computing are two-fold: connectivity must be almost totally uninterrupted, and our information must remain secure now and in the future. Google can try and address the second, e.g. through providing storage assurance, but can do nothing about the first factor. Scary outage stories (e.g. Gmail unavailable for a stretch of time) continue to undermine our confidence in internet-only solutions. A feature like Google Gears may help us work offline, but online connectivity must be available when and where we need it.

In summary, Google is seeking a pioneer's advantage in the brave new world of personal cloud computing. Much needs to happen before concept becomes a reality, but as things evolve, Google could indeed be very well-placed to dominate our personal computers in the future…much like Microsoft does, today.

(More questions? Comment below or write to me at rchandras@gmail.com.)Google's newly introduced Chrome operating system has led to a media frenzy and flurry of analyst interpretations. Here are five key questions -- and answers -- about the Chrome OS...

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