Google Chrome OS: Vaporware Or Victory?

Chrome OS, Google's newly announced operating system, isn't just a swipe at Microsoft. It's an attempt to realize the cloud computing future that Google's been predicting.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

July 8, 2009

2 Min Read

Given that Chrome OS will remain vaporware for the next few months, such speculation about the timing of Google's announcement seems plausible.

At the same time, Google's motivations go beyond competing with Microsoft. Google benefits from openness and free-flowing information. So its aim with Chrome OS should be seen more as a paving the way to a future of cloud-based applications rather than undermining competitors.

Google isn't the only company predicting a future of cloud-based applications. In a report released on Monday, Forrester analyst Frank E. Gillett writes, "the center of gravity for personal computing will shift from a device- and OS-centric model to an information- and media-centric model that gives individuals dramatically more control over their personal computing experience. Over the next two years, consumer technology vendors will create the personal cloud"

The Chrome OS may also be an attempt to capitalize on emerging markets outside the U.S., where desktop computers and laptops remain prohibitively expensive for many people. Hardware and software makers could use Chrome OS on inexpensive netbooks to make headway in areas where devices have to be as affordable as a mobile phone to interest potential buyers.

Some time between now and the developer release of Chrome OS later this year, expect further Google announcements designed to make Chrome OS more compelling, like the company's long-rumored "GDrive" storage service and the integration of Native Client -- software for running x86 native code in Web applications -- into Chrome.

There is of course a downside to the cloud computing model: online services pose a privacy risk because everything a user does registers on a remote server. Countries like China that pursue state oversight of online activities can be expected to be keen supporters of managed computing services.

It remains to be seen whether Chrome OS will support high-grade file encryption for local and remote storage or other privacy controls. Google doesn't have a stellar track record when it comes to privacy. But since Chrome OS is open source, such an oversight could be addressed by third-parties, at least in theory.

And until Chrome OS is actually released, theory will have to suffice.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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