Microsoft has enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the PC desktop for two decades. Though the Apple operating system is superior to Windows in many ways — especially for simplicity and usability — Apple’s closed-system approach has ensured that Apple OS will never be more than a strong niche player. Open-source Linux has made significant inroads in the server market, but the lack of singular vision and decent user-interface has kept it as a hobbyist toy on the desktop.
This has allowed Microsoft to continue to own the PC desktop, in spite of major missteps, such as Windows ME and the disaster that was Vista in its first year, with significant incompatibilities, endless security warnings, and user-defections back to Windows XP. Microsoft’s new operating system — Windows 7, which is expected to ship later this year — has been receiving mostly positive reviews. And not a moment too soon, because along comes Microsoft’s greatest threat to its stranglehold on the desktop in twenty years.
Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially target netbooks. Later this year, Google will open-source its code, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010.
Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. Google has designed the Chrome OS to be fast and lightweight, to boot up and get you onto the Web in seconds. Which will be a refreshing change from the four-minute startup required for my ultra-fast Windows laptop.
The Chrome OS user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, as Google hopes that most of the user experience will take place on the Web. And as Google did for the Chrome browser, Chrome OS developers went back to the basics and completely redesigned the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don’t have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. A hollow promise, of course, since if Chrome OS becomes popular with users, it will become popular with criminals too.
The software architecture has Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the Web is the platform. There really won’t be much of a concept of desktop applications ala Windows. All Web-based applications should work automatically. And all apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based Web browser on Windows, Mac and Linux, thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform in the world.
The promise of Google Chrome OS is a simple computing experience, where users can browse the Web and get their email quickly. Computers will always run as fast as they did when new. Data will be accessible everywhere there’s an Internet connection, and users will not have to worry if their computer breaks or they forget to backup their files. More importantly, users don’t want to spend hours configuring their computers to work with every new piece of hardware, or have to worry about constant software updates.
For someone like me who lives out in the country — I’m often disconnected, and when I am connected, it’s by slow satellite — the idea of a net-only computing experience seems like a major step backward. But for the majority of broadband-connected users, a simple, fast net-based computer running Google Chrome OS will likely represent an improvement over the bloated, complicated Windows operating system.
Article published on July 8, 2009
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