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Quick note on Chrome OS Cr-48 pilot programme

By on Dec 12, 2010 in Tech Takes | 9 comments

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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.)

Nope, not a Thinkpad. That's Google's Cr-48 netbook, er, notebook. 'Cr' is the element symbol for 'chromium', in case you didn't know.

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).

Jolicloud's cloud-based OS




9 Comments

  1. Ishan saluja

    December 12, 2010

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    I believe that these netbooks will be very cheap, cheaper than all notebooks on the market right now. I don’t think that they’re aiming for a huge profit from sales, rather they’re aiming at reeling people in and holding on to them until their graves. Also, if it indeed is a success; I reckon that an advertisement plan that covers all aspects of our interaction with the netbook isn’t such a distant possibility. Also, I don’t think thy it’ll be a runaway success, not because people care about restrictions; we learnt that from the iPhone, but because of the fact that it has nothing new to offer. Also, it needs a constant data plan, which rules out more than half of the worlds population. I reckon a couple million of sales, but nothing too special. Ofcourse, Mesa needs my hand on one of them nao!

    • Ankur Banerjee

      December 12, 2010

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      Google will have to subsidise its hardware partners (Acer, Asus, Samsung etc) in case it wants these netbooks to be cheaper. After all, under the hood these are all Intel Atom netbooks – the hardware costs should be about the same for the manufacturer. Unless Google chips in they won’t cannibalize their normal netbook line by offering these at a cheaper price.

      Data availability in developing countries is suspect but increased competition should change that. In India for instance, I heard Airtel has been offering 3G data plans at the same price as its old EDGE plans.

  2. Shantanu

    December 12, 2010

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    I agree about the cost part. These will not be cheaper than other netbooks (especially linux based ones) unless Google subsidizes them.
    Also agree about the data thing as far as countries like India are concerned but not that much of a concern for other countries. But one thing to note here is that Google is actively working on reducing the need for a constant connection with this. They are bringing offline storage for google docs and most other apps etc.
    As far as antitrust is concerned, it could be an issue but I think that there are equal (or better) chances that it might not be.
    1. Take a look at any smartphone OS out there, they all require an account with the OS manufacturer (including iPhone/Android/WP7) to use all their features.
    2. Google will allow anyone to put up their apps on the app store, including rivals like Microsoft. So, no issues there.
    3. Anyone can use cloud offerings for docs etc from Microsoft and others using the laptop. There is no restriction there as well.
    That said, there can be minor nuances here and there. Antitrust cases are a bitch and competitors can turn anything into an antitrust issue so yes, I expect that Google will indeed face them if chromeOS becomes popular financially.

    • Ankur Banerjee

      December 13, 2010

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      1. The reason why antitrust isn’t an issue on phones, despite requiring OS provider logins, is that there’s fierce competition within the mobile phone market. See, this is why Apple does not want complete dominance; if they made their products affordable to larger group of people, then they would be in trouble as they get a much greater share of the market. Apple is instead happy to corner off the top-end, high margin section of the market with its pricing (bigger profits) and yet the at same time use pricing as a tool to keep competition alive.

      2. Unlike the mobile phone OS market, there’s not a lot of competition in the cloud OS market. In fact, I don’t think a lot of companies other than Google even have the infrastructure to support that. (Probably just Microsoft and Amazon; Amazon does have the cloud infrastructure but consumer cloud OS market is not one that I think they’re into.) The few competitors that are there such as Jolicloud can’t match Google’s marketing efforts.

      3. Technically, any modern browser that supports HTML5 should be able to run Chrome web apps. However, if you visit the Chrome store then Google is actively blocking other browsers by saying “You need Google Chrome to run these apps”. Again, a case of using its dominant position against its competitors.

      Any antitrust case won’t happen overnight – certainly not even within a year. Chrome OS might just turn out to be the thing that finally makes netbooks truly popular. 3-4 years down the line though, if Chrome OS is a hit, competitors might find themselves decimated by Chrome OS’s tightly locked ecosystem (as it exists now). That’s when there’s a chance Google gets hit with antitrust complaints. Essentially, this will depend on how popular Chrome OS gets and whether Google changes its policies on this to be more open than they are now.

  3. Shantanu

    December 12, 2010

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    One more note about the boot up times. Their final aim is 5 seconds on a regular hard drive as they want to project it as an instant-on type of OS. Let’s see if/when that becomes a reality..

  4. BLogjunta

    December 18, 2010

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  5. Sathya

    December 26, 2010

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    Quick point:

    That’s the not the case with Chrome OS – you have to sign in with a Google account.

    That’s not quite true, you can start using Chrome OS without having any Google Account. Start a new guest session and you’re good to go.

    Cr-48 specific: You’ll never switch it off. Closing the laptop lid will put it in suspend mode & it resumes faster than you can open the lid.

    I’ve been loving the Cr-48 for the lengthy web-surfing sessions that I often do. I will post my thoughts soon.

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