If you use the Internet, chances are you know about Google (if not, get out from under your rock!). From their search engine giant status to their release of their Android operating system for Smart Phones, Google has invested much into today’s technology. Add in their online Office suite, affectionately known as “Google Docs”, their extremely popular email service, their excellent calendar product, and their up and coming Chrome browser, and it becomes easy to see that Google impacts a vast number of computer users today.
But soon it may be that Google has an even bigger impact in the typical user’s computing experience. Google is set to release the Chrome Operating System (OS) that replaces the typical OS on a personal computer. Instead of booting up the computer and running various applications to get your work done, the system instead would boot up to a browser. The browser would then connect to various applications in the cloud, and you would use the remote app for getting things done. Please note the Chrome OS is a different product than the currently available Chrome browser, even though the Chrome OS will no doubt incorporate the browser product.
While some may decry a browser based operating system as a featureless and gadget free computer, that is exactly the target Google was shooting for. Linus Upson, Google’s Vice President of Engineering in charge of Chrome, had this to say on the topic:
When people look at Chrome OS, they’re going to be like, ‘It’s just a browser, there’s nothing exciting here.’ Exactly. It’s just a browser, there’s nothing exciting here — that’s the point…
After all, since the “action”, so to say, is taking place on the cloud, there does not need to be anything on the local computer besides what it takes to load the browser. What you get in return is low computing requirements that make for a very efficient computing experience – read that as potentially very economic. And it is a system that, being comprised of the less number of “moving” parts, is easy to keep automatically updated.
The software itself is residing on the remote servers, so you are sure to have the latest copy every time you log in. You can work, play, email, chat, watch movies, catch up with friends, and more all without needing user software installed on the local computer. And with only a browser running on the system, it makes it easier to keep the system free of viruses, spyware, and other threats.
Of course, such a system is not for everyone. Some companies use very special software that runs outside of the browser, and this would require the OS it was designed for. Also, there are still some users out there, believe it or not, that are not connected to the web. Obviously these users would find a browser only computer to be of little value.
So, what kind of user would find the Google Chrome OS to be a good fit for their needs? Well, it might be good to take a look at these groups, and the answers just might surprise you.
If you can imagine Google Docs replacing the typical Office software suite, then it immediately opens up a large number of businesses ready to make the leap to the Chrome OS. How large a number? Well, if you can believe Google, that number is around 60 percent! Now, would you want to make any guess as to whose piece of pie that is stealing from? If you said Microsoft, you would be correct.
Microsoft is the single largest desktop operating system in use today, and it will be found in most typical businesses. On top of that, those businesses will more than likely be running the Microsoft Office Suite. So, by going to the Chrome OS and using Google Docs, Microsoft is losing out on both of their flagship products – the OS and the Office Suite. And at potential 60% loss, it has Microsoft scrambling.
Scrambling, that is, to embrace cloud computing. If you remember, Microsoft was slow to the browser game but soon made up time by packaging it with the OS. And now Microsoft is doing the same for cloud computing. In March 2010, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had this to say about the paradigm:
About 75 percent of our folks are doing entirely cloud based or entirely cloud inspired; a year from now that will be 90 percent.
Wow, quite an endorsement from the desktop king. And it shows not only that Microsoft considers the cloud as a very reasonable alternative for desktop software, but also that they believe their future lies in it. The question now is this – will Google beat them to the punch and walk away with the majority of their customer base?
One of the places that a browser only operating system could really shine is on a public accessible computer system, such as found in public libraries. Without the ability to easily run local applications, the system would be more secure. And it would be potentially more secure for the end user as well.
In fact, public computers show the true flexibility of the roadmap Google is offering. You could literally work on a project at your desk or on a public computer on vacation and there would be no real difference. All of your material would be there at hand when you log in, and it would all go away when you log out. The days of having to file a file back at the office would become obsolete.
The home worker, or telecommuter, could take advantage of the Google OS in correlation with cloud based computing to be a productive business participant. Since there would be literally no difference between a worker in the office and a remote worker, businesses can leverage offsite employees to a higher degree than was possible before. And even in the case of specialized software, a large number of these already run on a browser, making it easy to distribute in an offsite work paradigm with little or no modification.
Low Cost Computer Users
The Google OS, since it has a minimal computing footprint requirement, would work great on a lesser-featured computer. The cost of storage and system backup is practically removed for the average user, and such an OS could boot up from a small solid-state drive. The end result is computers that are lighter, cheaper, and faster. Even the average netbook of today is almost over qualified for running such an OS.
This ease of computing hardware requirements could find itself in low cost tablets quite easily, which would open up many areas of computing that are stifled now. For example, a solid surface tablet that could be sealed from dirt and cheaply manufactured could be a natural fit for school kids. Of course, when (not if) a child loses or breaks theirs, a quick replacement gets them back up and running without any kind of loss.
The Average Facebook User
Facebook is big. Actually, with over a half a billion users it is huge. And yet many of those users are the average person with a home computer that use it for very little more than Facebook, Email, and online shopping (Hi, Mom!). Of course there are exceptions, but a browser based OS would be a natural fit for the majority of these types of users. Being inherently more secure would be a big plus, and the ease of use for first time users (you know, grandma and the gang) would get them up and running without the free support calls from friends and family.
The bottom line is this – if you use a browser today for the majority of the time you are on your computer, then you are already a great fit for the Google Chrome OS. And if you use an Office Suite for the bulk of your work, then you’re also a potential candidate for the OS. But if you work on your computer without a connection then you need to embrace the full OS and the apps that go with it. Because without a pipe to the outside world the Google Chrome OS is just an empty browser – no fun at all.