So you just need a web browser?

When Google announced that it was working on an operating system, it was bound to result in a frisson of excitement. However, a peek at the preview edition that has been doing the rounds confirms that Chrome OS is a very different beast from those operating systems to which we are accustomed. The first thing that you notice is that it only starts up the Chrome web browser. In this, it is like a Windows terminal server session that opens just one application. Of course, in Google’s case, that one piece of software is the gateway to its usual collection of productivity software like GMail, Calendar, Docs & Spreadsheets and more. Then, there are offerings from others too with Microsoft just beginning to come into the fray to join Adobe and many more. As far as I can tell, all files are stored remotely and I reckon that adding the possibility of local storage and management of those local files would be a useful enhancement.

With Chrome OS, Google’s general strategy starts to make sense. First create a raft of web applications, follow them up with a browser and then knock up an operating system. It just goes to show that Google Labs doesn’t just churn out stuff for fun but that there is a serious point to their endeavours. In fact, you could say that they sucked us in to a point along the way. Speaking for myself, I may not entrust all of my files to storage in the cloud but I am perfectly happy to entrust all of my personal email activity to GMail. It’s the widespread availability and platform independence that has done it for me. For others spread between one place and another, the attractions of Google’s other web apps cannot be understated. Maybe, that’s why they are not the only players in the field either.

With the rise of mobile computing, that portability is the opportunity that Google is trying to use to its advantage. For example, mobile phones are being used for things now that would have been unthinkable a few years back. Then, there’s the netbook revolution started by Asus with its Eee PC. All of this is creating an ever internet connected bunch of people so have devices that connect straight to the web like they would with Chrome OS has to be a smart move. Some may decry the idea that Chrome OS is going to be available on a device only basis but I suppose they have to make money from this too; search can only pay for so much and they have experience with Android too.

There have been some who wondered about Google’s activities killing off Linux and giving Windows a good run for its money; Chrome OS seems to be a very different animal to either of these. It looks as if it is a tool for those on the move, an appliance rather than the pure multipurpose tools that operating systems usually are. If there is a symbol of what an operating system usually means for me, it’s the ability to start with a bare desktop and decide what to do next. Transparency is another plus point and the Linux command line had that in spades. For those who view PC’s purely as means to get things done, such interests are peripheral and it is for these that the likes of Chrome OS has been created. In other word, the Linux community need to keep an eye on what Google is doing but should not take fright because there are other things that Linux always will have as unique selling points. The same sort of thing applies to Windows too but Microsoft’s near stranglehold on the enterprise market will take a lot of loosening, perhaps keeping Chrome OS in the consumer arena. Counterpoints to that include the use GMail for enterprise email by some companies and the increasing footprint of web-based applications, even bespoke ones, in business computing. In fact, it’s the latter than can be blamed for any tardiness in Internet Explorer development. In summary, Chrome OS is a new type of thing rather than a replacement for what’s already there. We may find that co-existence is how things turn out but it means for Linux in the netbook market is another matter. Only time will tell on that one.