As Chrome OS Rolls Out, Questions Loom

by Ostatic Staff - May. 12, 2011

In conjunction with the Google I/O conference this week, Google held its launch event for the long awaited Chrome OS, the company's cloud-centric operating system. Among the announcements, Google said it is working with Samsung and Acer on Chrome OS laptops that will be available June 15, and Google will be pushing subscription plans for using its cloud services and cloud-based apps with the laptops. Google co-founder Sergey Brin was quoted as saying that Microsoft's Windows OS is "torturing users," but while nearly everything that Google rolls out meets with a full volume of welcome, there are many questions to ask about the company's Chrome OS strategy.

Most importantly, as we've noted before, with Chrome OS, Google is betting heavily on the idea that consumers and business users will have no problem storing data and using applications in the cloud, without working on the locally stored data/applications model that they're used to. Here at OStatic, we always questioned the aggressively cloud-centric stance that Chrome OS is designed to take. Don't users want local applications too? Why don't I just run Ubuntu and have my optimized mix of cloud and local apps? After all, the team at Canonical, which has a few years more experience than Google does in the operating system business, helped create Chrome OS

There are new details about how Chrome OS will handle these issues. For example, the same Citrix technology that allows users to access Windows applications from the iPad is coming to Chrome OS.  As Network World notes:

"Citrix products let IT departments host applications in the data center and stream them to user devices, including thin clients, PCs, smartphones and tablets. Chrome OS laptops, which require users to do all of their computing inside a Chrome Web browser, will become just 'another door to the applications they already have."

Without a doubt, though, these Windows applications will have slower performance than native and local Windows applications do--another tradeoff to a strictly cloud/virtualization-based computing model. Google has argued that putting data and applications in the cloud will create a "stateless" model that will make life easier for IT administrators, and, no doubt, the company is betting that Google Apps will appeal to users as readily as alternatives do.

If the history of personal computers bears anything out, it's that platforms with best-of-breed applications win in the end. It remains to be seen whether the world of cloud apps is appealing enough to businesses and consumers to compete with long-standing apps that took shape outside of the cloud. Does anyone really believe that Google's spreadsheet and word processor are just as good as Word, Excel, or equivalent tools in OpenOffice?

Finally, the economics of owning a powerful laptop have changed radically since Google first announced its Chrome OS plans. You can stock a very powerful Linux-based laptop with top applications for $300, and Windows-based laptops featuring huge application choice aren't a whole lot more. Will users and businesses want to pay $20 to $28 a month for subscriptions to cloud-based applications? Does that make sense for cash-strapped students who just need reasonable laptops and reasonable application choices?

It will be interesting to watch Google's Chrome OS strategy play out, but much time has passed since this operating system was announced (upon announcement it was slated for netbooks only). Chrome OS, most certainly, is not a layup for Google.