Google’s Chrome OS test pilot programme has generated quite a buzz, with even people who asked for stickers getting a shiny new Chrome OS notebook to test out. It’s early days of course – they aren’t selling these Chrome OS tablets until early 2011. I think the crucial factor to its success would be pricing – is it cheaper than normal netbooks? Google has ‘solved’ the always-on connectivity issue by bundling in a free 100 MB 3G data subscription from Verizon with the option to buy more in case a user needs it, and the ‘need it’ users certainly will. (100 MB is a pittance of data allowance – I use up more than that on my crappy Nokia ‘smartphone’ which doesn’t in have the same class of data intensive apps that iPhone / Android do.)
Running applications ‘off the cloud’ (storing everything online) is something you can already do on existing netbooks, laptops, desktops – you can even get the same experience by installing Chrome Web Apps as you’d want on Chrome OS from the Chrome store. So if a Chrome OS netbook is priced higher or the same as a normal netbook, I don’t see why I should buy the former.
The touted 10-second bootup speeds that Chrome OS has is not because it’s significantly better than others, but because it uses a solid state disk rather than a normal hard disk. Try booting Ubuntu on an SSD system and you’ll get similar startup times. (It’ll be a bit more, but come on – isn’t an extra five seconds worth it for having a ‘full’ system?) Chrome OS is essentially a Linux-based operating system just like Ubuntu, except that they are purposefully blocking access to anything other than your ‘online filesystem’.
This is all moot for the casual user of course – they’ll love it. With Google’s marketing might, Chrome OS might even be a success in the way netbooks haven’t been. But they’ll potentially open themselves up for anti-trust lawsuits from their competitors. Google has been able to avoid such allegations till now in the search engine market simply by saying “Users can choose a different search engine anytime they want“. That’s the not the case with Chrome OS – you have to sign in with a Google account.
When Google’s distributing 60,000 test notebooks at no charge, destroying 25 for this video must have been approved without so much as eyebrow being raised.
Once you start using Chrome OS at home, you’d be forced to use it at office and other places too. That easy-sharing of documents with friends and family? Well, that just means they’ll have to sign up for Google Accounts too to access shared files. Chrome OS simply leads to a scenario where everything is tightly locked in to Google’s network, with not much hope of switching. You simply can’t copy your files and shift from Windows to Mac (say) as you can do with normal computers. If you decide one day to shift to Microsoft Office Web Apps instead of Google Docs, how do you migrate your data? What if you want to use Skype instead of Google Voice Chat? Skype doesn’t even have a web app version!
I also don’t buy the argument some tech analysts have made that Chrome OS could be posturing itself as a cheap IT solution for enterprise use, at the long tail of the usage chain with adoption as point-of-sale terminals and mobile workforce. IT departments for companies are usually wary of vendor lock-ins, and though Chrome OS may be cheap to deploy I don’t reckon companies would want to give up complete control in the way that would be required of them.
With this tight lock, with the user constantly signed in to Google, they have a pretty solid idea of what you do all the time, not just what you search. They’d want to capitalize on this rich amount of usage data by trying to serve more targetted advertising. If Google sticks on to its current vision AND Chrome OS becomes a success, it’s inevitable that their competitors will have a very strong anti-trust case in the courts. Such an anti-trust case could very well bring Google as we know it close to oblivion, just like what almost happened in United States vs Microsoft.
Thank you, but no thank you Google. I’ll stick to my netbook which gives me complete freedom to do what I want.
PS – If, however, you’ve already been seduced by Google Chrome OS’ s ‘always online’ vision but can’t try it out because you aren’t in the Cr-48 pilot programme, give Jolicloud a go. It’s an Ubuntu-based cloud OS much like Chrome OS; additionally, also an HTML5-based web-OS that you can try out in the Chrome Web Store. One of the complaints against Chrome OS has been that it doesn’t play Flash videos very well, which I’ve heard Jolicloud has sorted out (supports playback of HD Flash videos).