Google Chrome OS - Web Optimized Browser On Steriods

Google's all in bet is that the cloud plus a browser will kill off Microsoft

Google's laying it all out on the table with Chrome OS. My editor posted an excellent article about Chrome OS and we're already expecting a Chrome OS update from Google. Despite the distraction of a bank robbery and shooting in our city last week, I managed to dig my paws into Chrome OS to try and really understand what Google's up to. It's not to hard to figure that out, actually. It's pretty obvious that Google's now trying to create the world's first successful web appliance. There's a lot I like and a lot I have significant questions about with Chrome OS.

You can download a virtual image of Chrome OS and run it using VMware or Virtual Box. Be aware that many people have had issues trying to run Chrome OS. In particular I had the same issue many others reported, a "Network Not Connected" error on the initial OS login screen, which you can bypass by logging in with the "chronos" id and "password" as the password. You can then log in with your usual Google id.

What you'll see is a... browser. That's it. A few very basic utility functions but even those are minimal. Chrome OS is a browser OS and that's it, and Google has made it very clear that no non-Chrome OS software can be downloaded or installed onto a Chrome OS device. Even the software running on a Chrome OS device is loaded from a read-only partition that others can't access. Browser plugin functionality is even still very much in question.

It's clear that Google is doing this for a multitude of reasons. Speed, stability, and security being three important reasons. The entire Chrome OS, and the required hardware specs (including a solid state drive), are optimized for a very fast user experience. No other software to complicate things and cause compatibility or stability issues, or slow the user experience down. That means the user will experience a very fast device. It also means much fewer issues with malicious code high jacking a Chrome OS device.

Chrome OS also isn't like your normal file-based document storage OS. No user data lives permanently on a Chrome OS device. It's much like using Google docs today, where all data lives in the Google cloud, where you created and edit it from the Chrome browser. Only temporary cache is located on the Chrome OS device, much like the browser cache you have today. One thing Google will definitely have to address is the current file size limitations of Google Docs (2MB doc and 10MB PDF limit), a real killer in my opinion for using Google's apps in place of something like Microsoft Office.

Speaking of Microsoft Office, during Google's demonstration of Chrome OS they opened an Excel file that launched and opened in Office Web Apps. A "killer" platform for Office Web Apps according to Google. More of that thumb in the eye to Microsoft, I'd say.

Unlike the normal web browser experience, when you first log into Chrome OS, the Chrome browser will ask you to setup a Gmail email account if you don't have one already, and will want you to enable Google's calendaring function. Obviously email and calendaring are basic features you'd want when using Chrome OS, but for whatever reason I was a bit unexpected when Chrome OS walked me through setting up a Gmail account on an existing Google account that didn't have email setup. Obviously, Google is setting up both new and existing Google account users with the full Google experience.

Is the world ready for an end user web-only appliance? Will users accept a web-browser only experience? Today, no for several reasons, but that doesn't count Chrome OS out by any stretch. Only a couple of years ago I would have agreed with many who thought our applications were moving to become all web apps. But the iPhone change my views on that. Google Android, and the 100,000+ installable software apps for the iPhone, are a clear signal that users still prefer an app-based experience over using a browser, at least on their cell phones anyway.

But web applications like Google Docs and Microsoft Office Web Apps are doing a much better job of emulating the user experience of some full fledged software app. I believe the three keys to whether Chrome OS becomes a major player are the degree to which web apps closely emulate full software apps, how well users accept web apps like Google Docs and Microsoft Office Web Apps, and the offline user experience.

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