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Chrome alone?

by Simon Brew

Has the moment passed already for Google Chrome OS? Linux User columnist Simon Brew examines the evidence…

This article originally appeared in issue 97 of Linux User & Developer magazine.Chrome alone? Subscribe and save more than 30% and receive our exclusive money back guarantee – click here to find out more.

One of the most interesting projects announced last year, for my money at least, was Google Chrome OS. This was, as you probably know, Google’s signal of intent that it was going head first into the operating system market, having found a niche in which it figured it could make an impact.

Its thinking was smart, too. It targeted the then burgeoning netbook market, coming up with a fast, quick-booting operating system that stored everything you needed in the cloud. When it was first demonstrated, and Google showed a portable machine booting to a working desktop in under ten seconds, I wanted to get cracking with the OS right there and then.

But despite engaging with the open source community, and in spite of putting materials out there for people to tinker with, to date we’ve not even seen a proper beta build that we can take a look at. Instead, the operating system, which was first due before the end of 2010, is now set to turn up later in 2011. When? Good question. We’re told the delay is being measured in months, but that’s suitably vague.

The problem, however, and Google must know this, is that Chrome OS is increasingly looking like an opportunity missed. Google spotted a gap in the market and found a way to address people’s key frustrations with operating systems while incorporating cloud computing at the same time. A win, then. Only it seems as though Google might just be snatching defeat from the jaws of, if not victory, at least some semblance of success in getting people even more interesting in a Windows alternative. For that was the interesting battle here. Not that Google Chrome OS was going to bring something new to the Linux arena, rather that a massive company had decided to take on Windows.

But the window of opportunity has now surely been lost. Since Chrome OS was announced, the iPad has come in and seized control of the portable market. Well, if not control, then at least the initiative. And as such, netbooks are no longer the next big thing, or anything even close to that. Instead, netbooks are struggling. The market isn’t as interesting as it was. And Chrome OS suddenly looks like the operating system without a home.

Google is unlikely to be too bothered, given the inroads that it’s been making with the Android platform. And whether Chrome OS does eventually see the light of day or not, the work on it is unlikely to be wasted, as it’s inevitably going to end up in the Android codebase somewhere along the line.

But personally, I still want to see that battle. I still want to see a company make a concerted effort to take on Microsoft Windows, and the reality is that you need a big brand name to do that. I don’t want to see the baton passed from one big firm to another, I just want people in the mass market to at least see there’s an alternative out there. Then, if they choose Windows, so be it. At least they’ve made a decision.

Google, however, may have put that battle off, ironically by doing the thing that open source is rarely criticised for: simply taking too much time. As such, for now at least, the status quo remains very firmly in place.

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    • skai

      why keeping on that “boot time” thing, when booting has simply been irrelevant – for years ?
      especially on those “light” appliances ?

      I boot once a month max – when upgrading the kernel, and freeze otherwise. (even on my laptop, and my old desktop also).

      Chrome OS, Android : one must prevail, or maybe thy’ll fuse. Future will tell.

    • ercarta

      With Jolicloud 1.1 already on the market I wonder what’s the point. Jolicloud offers and has been offering for over a year now everything ChromeOS promises and more.

    • GG

      Really? Can’t you guys read? Do you really think Jolicloud, a pretty much unknown distro based on the always defective Ubuntu (since the first Ubuntu I used, which was Hardy, I’ve never had a trouble-free release… Ubuntu is plagued with kernel issues, bad decisions, etc. On the other hand, I only recall 1 problem with Archlinux on almost 3 years… ) will be able to take MS-windows in any (commercial) way?
      And the other guy, WTF? Do you actually think the rest of mankind keeps their PC perpetually ON, even when they are not anywhere near them? We have smartphone’s now, we don’t live (most people never did!) hooked to our PC’s all the time! (so, NO, boot times are only irrelevant to a savvy few).
      I think the article just nailed it, and it’s a shame, it was a nice chance and a hope-filling announcement when it happened :S

    • ged

      your missing the underlying motive i believe.

      Chrome OS is a problem waiting for a solution.,
      In other words Google created Chrome OS as a way to push the web forward in order to get as much content into an indexable form.
      their whole business model is based on this

      so by creating the idea of chrome os, they and others are encouraged to make browsers and the whole html5 thing better and better and hence replace binary level systems with indexable ones.

      Its a very smart way to do it. If you want a solution create a problem that results in that solutions.