For Chrome OS, Challenges Large and Small Loom

by Ostatic Staff - Dec. 09, 2010

Following Google's Chrome OS event this week, opinions are flying around about whether the company's first operating system aimed at computers marks a revolution or not. Of course, Google only showed a prototype version of the operating system running on one piece of hardware, there are still many known bugs in Chrome OS, and--above all--Google is late to the game delivering the operating system. There were several points of interest from the event, including the extremely unprecedented and robust security model that Chrome OS has, but there are also fundamental problems that loom for Google as it delves into unfamiliar territory. These problems range from widely discussed ones--such as the cloud-only model that the OS has--to less discussed ones, like whether you'll actually be able to print from Chrome OS.

Much was made at Google's event of the unusual security model that Chrome OS has. Through its use of flash memory and other stunts, such as being able to reimage itself in the event of a malware attack, the operating system is being billed as more secure than any one before it.

ZDNet reports that Dell--which has been friendly to Linux operating systems--is tinkering with Google's open source OS: 

"One engineer from Dell built ISO image files that users can burn to USB to 'take ChromeOS for a test drive,' reports Steve Pirk, a ChromeOS enthusiast and principal at Yensid, an open source company in Bremerton, Wash."

Getting Dell--the number two PC manufacturer--to be behind Chrome OS would be a coup for Google, no doubt, but problems still loom for the operating system. We've written before about the cloud-only model that it works on, where users will be required to work with data and apps in the cloud at the expense of choice. It's also late, with Google now saying that the first mobile devices with Chrome OS will arrive mid-next year. But even beyond these issues, there are questions about whether Google can deliver a solid OS focused on computers and not smartphones. 

For example, PCMag has an interesting post up about a hands-on attempt to print using Google's Cloud Print scheme, which Chrome OS users will be required to use. The operating system won't work in standard fashion with printers, but rather queue up print jobs in the cloud and require Cloud Print compatibility from printers. If you check the PCMag story, multiple time-consuming attempts to work with Cloud Print failed.

These are the vicissitudes involved in delivering a desktop OS. Microsoft spent years trying to nail down hardware compatibility with its Plug-and-Play initiative, and it had dominant OS market share. On the desktop, the smallest issue-like printing-can call into question the support behind and the execution of an operating system. It's no surprise that Google is dragging its feet with Chrome OS, and it won't be a surprise to see unexpected issues arise as it rolls out next year.